Thursday, April 17, 2014

Part II: Why Didn't God Intervene in the Holocaust?

As we near Easter, I have been pondering the nature of evil in our world.  The ultimate symbol of evil is the Holocaust and so I am asking the question in the title as part of this pondering.  The Garden of Eden is my starting point, and the results of our First Parents' choice leads directly to the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Divine Gamble Was Lost
      Adam and Eve chose to do wrong.  They now had to live out the consequences:  death came to their souls and bodies.  This was no doubt the most painful day in the life of His creation:  the day His children hid from Him.
      Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’
      He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’
     And he said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’
     The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’
    Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’
    The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Gen. 3:8-13)
    Notice what our First Parents did, and what we have done ever since:  the evil that we do is ultimately God’s fault. 
     God first inquires after His children’s whereabouts—He knows where they are but He wants to see if they know where they are.  The Garden is no longer a place to walk in the sunshine.  Adam and Eve sought its shadows, the places where God would not be.  Fear is now palpable in the Garden:  Adam fears God’s very presence, and God senses His relationship with His children is altered.  Adam is very literal in his response at first:  I am naked, I am afraid, I have hidden myself from You.
     No longer is Adam at ease with His Creator; no longer is he free to walk alongside God and talk; no longer is he free to simply be.  He now worries about the future and what it holds.
     God then wants to hear an admission from Adam of what he did—God knows, but again wants to know if Adam truly understands what he did.  Adams avoids the first question—he will not admit to God where he learned of his nakedness.  Adam now knows Good from Evil (the apple provided him with that) and he could have said that he followed the Serpent’s lead.  He now sees how truly good God is, and he could have confessed his direct disobedience to God, and how sorry he is.   
     Adam now knows what evil is and how far away he is from God.  He could have confessed how seductive possessing such knowledge was and now he realizes how burdensome it has become.  He could have simply said to God, "You talked with me directly about what I was supposed to do.  Now, I hide from Your sight.  I miss You." 
     Did he?  No.  He says that the woman God provided him is to blame:   "The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.'"  The not-so-subtle implication is, if God had not given Adam Eve, then Adam would have been able to remain obedient. 
     So...God, it’s Your fault that I am in this predicament. 
    Then God turns to Eve, and wants to hear her admission of guilt.  She knew the prohibition and still chose to eat the apple.  She could have said that she should have never been near that Tree and listened to the perverse logic of the Serpent.  She should have walked away and warned Adam of the Serpent’s presence.  Perhaps she could have said she did not fully understand the prohibition.    
     Did she?  No.  She says that the Serpent deceived her:
"The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”  The not-so-subtle implication is that God created the Serpent and so if God hadn’t done so, she would not have been deceived. 
     So...God, it’s Your fault I am in this predicament.

God’s Response:  The Wages of Sin
     Does God cry?  I am sure that day, standing in the midst of this beautiful Garden, with its dazzling array of singing birds, butterflies and tasty fruit shining from every branch, a tear dropped from God’s eye.
     God explains how dramatically Creation has changed for each of the members in this terrible event.  Their lives are forever altered and so will be their descendants’.
     First, God addresses Satan.  Although Satan may have won this battle, but he will eventually lose the war.  Satan’s days are numbered:   
     “So the Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.’”
(Gen. 3:14-15)
     The snake, inhabited by Satan to tempt Eve, will from now on be a fearful reminder of Satan’s presence in the world.  Snakes are on every continent.  Many are venomous.  One bite will be as deadly to someone as the one bite of that apple was to our First Parents. 
     God then assures Satan there will be a day when One of Eve’s descendants will arrive to take back the planet.  He will bring God’s mightiness back to Creation, recreating a people whose hearts will be obedient once again out of love and gratitude for God.  The whisperings of Satan will be silenced under His crushing heel. Satan’s ultimate weapon, death, will be dismantled in the future when a stone rolls away from a tomb on an early spring morning.   
     Eve is next.  Her pain in childbirth will be a reminder of her disobedience:
     “To the woman he said,
     ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
    Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.’” (Gen. 3:16)
     Our First Parents walked as equals in the Garden.  Eve was taken from Adam’s side, so that was her place in his life.  Now, she is under him—ruled by him.  She will look to him the way she used to look to God: for love, guidance and direction.  She will love Adam the way she used to love God:  with her heart and soul.  She will be disappointed to her very soul:  her husband will be a poor substitute for her Creator.  Her husband will disappoint her time and time again.  
     But there will be someday One Who will restore that equality:  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
     Then Adam, the very one God spoke directly with, receives the final words: 
“To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,”
Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.’” (Gen. 3:17-19)
    The disobedience of Adam now has rendered the soil hostile to him.  The ground will still provide food, but no longer will Adam stroll through a welcoming grove, with shiny fruit inviting him to pick it.  He will toil endlessly to feed himself and his family.  He chose to listen to his own logic on how he should live, and now his own logic will have to figure out when and where to plant.  The dust swirling up from the plow and blowing away in the wind will remind him of the nature of his own existence:  he is animated clay, his body destined for the dirt and his spirit for the wind.

Our Future and Our Hope
    Even as the tear dried upon God’s face, He looked sorrowfully to a long future ahead for His children:  the wars, the sins, the cries, the genocides.  He saw abused children, bodies thrown into ditches, women beaten by their husbands, and the endless cries that will rise up to heaven of “Why, God?” 
   Since that day God’s pronouncements resounded throughout creation, Satan has never ceased his endless assassination of God’s character.  The three perpetrators of the Fall—Adam, Eve and Satan—rush off stage and hide behind the curtain.  God stands on stage, facing an accusing humanity, goaded on by the author of sin himself, Satan.  Satan whips up the audience to yell at God, blaming Him for everything that goes wrong:  the abuse of children, the bodies thrown into ditches, the women beaten by their husbands, and the seemingly unanswered question of “Why, God?”
   We stand angrily in the audience and pelt Him with accusations.  We cry and fall to our knees, and with our tear-stained faces, scream, "Why didn't You do something?"  
   Satan would have us believe that God's responsibility for this fallen world renders Him unreliable and suspect as to His goodness.  Satan whispers that God is derelict in His duties and trusting Him is ridiculous.  
  Satan will keep the focus from the Garden of Eden forward on God's failure to be God.  Our Parents, driven from the Garden, entered a world that is as adversely affected by their choice as they and their descendants will be:  "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."  (Romans 8:22-25)
     Creation groans under the burden of our choices:  the very soil that Adam will till is filled with weeds and thorns.  Disease ravishes our bodies, and creation at times, acts very in a very hostile manner to us:  earthquakes, fires, tsunamis plague us.  Animals too, will sicken and die and their diseases plague us as well--avian flu, swine flu.  
  We inherited sin from our Parents. We sadly inherited something else from our First Parents: an unwillingness to look at ourselves and the evil that we do. We seek to blame God for everything that goes wrong. We bask in the glories of our accomplishments, but when we fail, God is responsible.  
   Satan wants us to believe that this world--as it now stands--was God's original design.  Thus, bad world, bad God. 
  We were driven from the Garden, but God did not vacate the universe. In the midst of denial of our responsibility for our choices, Hope is woven into the very fabric of this polluted world: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."  (Romans 8:18-21). 
   God promises a Hope and an ultimate vanquishing of evil by providing a "he":
"And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel."

    God will not only continue to reign over this corrupted planet, but one day, He will leave the beauty of the courts of Heaven and enter in our world, as one of us.  He will be subjected to all the evil this world has to offer.  Then, when we cry, "But You don't understand, God!"  Jesus will lean over and whisper in our ear, "Oh yes I do."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Part I: Why Didn't God Intervene in the Holocaust?

Note:  As Easter approaches, I am going to spend some time exploring why evil is allowed in our world.  How did we go from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane?

   “Why Didn’t God Intervene in the Holocaust?” This question initiated my spiritual search as a young person. Upon watching a film about the Holocaust in the 8th grade, I was stunned that something like this had ever happened. I knew that horrible things happen; I lived in LA next door to an LA cop, whose children loved to show me black and white photographs of crime scenes. It was the time of the Zodiac killer and Charles Manson. Clearly bad people existed and did terrible things to good people. 
     But watching that film set the bar higher for what man was capable of in our world.  I will never forget the photographs of the heads in buckets, the bodies laid out like grotesque sardines upon the ground and the skulls staring from amongst the ashes in the crematoria.  I became an atheist.  No god/God in my mind could possibly exist if such evil was allowed to happen.  Done.
     Or so I thought.  I felt for a time quite superior in choosing such a stand:  hideous images and a good God?  No way.  And yet…when I realized that most of the Nazi perpetrators literally got away with murder, I faced another choice:  if man could commit such evil and avoid the courts of human justice, then how can justice as a concept even exist?  If no afterlife exists and no presiding Justice exists, then evil wins.  Pure and simple.  That was unacceptable. 
     Human beings need to be accountable to someone other than themselves or their fellow human beings.  Why?  We have a vast capacity to delude ourselves that what we are doing is justified.  Listen to Himmler in his 1943 speech to his SS officers:
           Most of you know what it means when a hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or a thousand. To have stuck it out, and at the same time — apart from exceptions caused by human weakness — to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history, which has never been written and is never to be written.... We had the moral right, we had the duty to our people, to destroy this people [the Jews] which wanted to destroy us.
      Himmler had no moral qualms about genocide and sought to persuade others.  He was very successful in doing so and had no shortage of those willing to act on his words.
     Over time, I made my way slowly back to God.  I sought Him because humans are not trustworthy.  We need to know that a beyond-this-life Judgment exists, and that the cries of victims are not just carried off in an ash-laden wind to a silent sky.  If we cannot extend dignity to our fellow human beings, then our failure becomes Heaven’s cause:  God’s reality reasserts human dignity.  If He is our Father, then all people are our brothers.  No exceptions.
     I never cease to think about the Holocaust.  It is a subject I constantly pursue.  It has and always will send me into a kind of theological dilemma.  How could He allow such evil to even take root, let alone to continue as long and as furiously as it did?
     So, in contemplating this catastrophic period in human history, I revisit the Garden of Eden, to remind myself of the original plan, knowing our heinous history is not His design.  The Garden is a microcosm, a little universe where evil first entered the world.  It will be that very moment, in the Garden, that will eventually  lead to the Cross.   

The Divine Gamble
     God engaged in a Divine Gamble when He created humans.  He created us to respond to Him, but how we respond is our choice. 
     He could have compelled us to love Him, using a kind of natural law to achieve His ends.  Caterpillars would eat leaves, geese would fly to warmer climates and humans would love God.  This is one possible plan. 
     But then love is no more than an instinct.  It carries no sense of awe or wonder for the Object of our affections.  We would simply love the way geese migrate:  an urge, a kind of preprogrammed response to stimuli.  Our love would be expressed mechanically and without an engagement of the heart and mind.
     Or God could have used fear to compel us.  Fear is a remarkably effective way to control behavior.  An abused child will say that she loves her mother, but deeply woven into that love is fear of pain and reprisal.  Her choice is really not to love but to appease.  A love that is compelled and laced with fear is equivalent to spiritual rape. 
     Or God could have been indifferent.  His “love” could have been passive—no involvement with our lives, no concern, just an occasional nod of His head towards the Garden. 
     God’s plan with our First Parents was simple:  He affirmed His love for them by giving them a beautiful environment in which to live.  He anticipated their needs and provided abundantly for them.  He engaged in fellowship with them on a regular basis—He walked with them in the Garden.  He counselled, directed and lovingly warned them of where disobedience would lead.  Knowing how wonderfully He cared for them elicited a response:  our First Parents loved God, and ran to Him in joy with gratitude.  God’s Gamble with choice was paying off.  Their love was unhindered and real.  God enjoyed their company.
     I am sure there were times, however, when they took His bounty and thanked Him, without a surge of love.  They perhaps were growing accustomed to such gifts and were becoming more focused on enjoying creation rather than the Creator.  They would obey only because they saw the logic of it.  Perhaps they thought they were entitled to such goodness—they had been blessed richly and may have thought it was because of something in them.  On some days, did they decline His invitation and walk in the Garden alone?     The power to love is also the power to reject.  The power to be with the Beloved is also the power to draw away. 
     Wanting His children to act wisely, God put our First Parents into the Garden with clear directions on what they could do and what they could not do.  His love for them made it clear.  No surprises were store in that Garden.  God acted with complete transparency. 

The Maturing of Adam and Eve’s Character
     But what about that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  The whole Garden was theirs to explore and relish, except for that one spot that was clearly designated as off-limits.  Could God have not put that Tree in middle of the Garden, so Adam and Eve could go anywhere, do anything and never experience any consequences?  Yes. 
     But character that is never tested is really not character at all:  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5)
     Character-building is a process, resulting from encountering difficulty and learning to navigate it: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
     Look at it this way:  a toddler is fine until you take away his toy, his binkie or anything else that child feels is his right to have.  Did Adam and Eve slip into an entitlement mode, thinking that they deserved the Garden because of their own goodness? 
     God wanted mature creatures occupying His Garden, and so He placed one restriction on His children.  Just one.  The rest of the Garden was at their disposal.  Yet it is that one tree, that one fruit that Eve was drawn to.  Maturity is knowing what the options are and choosing wisely.  Adam and Eve could have either complete confidence in God Himself and thus act loyally to His loving words or they could entertain doubts and explore other ways of occupying the Garden.
     Thus, the Divine Gamble played out:  God allowed His children to not only choose to love Him but to act in accordance with that love, and do what He demanded.  He wanted their obedience not based on instinct or on fear, but based on which voice they would listen to:  their own or God’s. 

Why Didn’t God Grab That Apple?
     Why did God not intervene as Eve reached out to pluck down the fruit?  He could have easily slapped her hand and it would have hit the ground.  Why didn’t He have Adam trip and fall over a rock to prevent him from listening to Eve?  Why did God stand idly by while these two chose to do wrong?
     Did they not know what would happen?  Yes: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’” (Gen. 2:15-17)
     Obviously, Eve was in the vicinity of that Tree that day.  She had the whole Garden to wander in.  Why was she wandering near that Tree?
      “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?
     The woman said to the serpent, ‘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.”’
     ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”
(Gen. 3:1-5)
     Eve’s response shows she added to what God had said:  He had made no specific prohibition about touching it.  Satan, slithering along the ground as an innocuous snake, was able to maneuver Eve’s thoughts away from God’s words and encourage her to interpret them.  We can choose to listen to God’s voice and trust what He says, or we can listen to our own logic. The whole Garden was theirs, except the one Tree, but that is not how Satan spun it.  If Satan had really shown himself as Satan, Eve would have tucked tail and run.  But who can be afraid of a talking snake, gently coiled around a branch, the soft sunlight dappling his skin? 
     Remember:  we can be deceived by appearances.  We must test the words we hear in order to know the truth.  Eve failed the test.  She didn’t focus on God’s words but allowed them to marinate in her own logic. 
     She then reinterpreted the words for Adam.  Adam had heard the words from God Himself, and yet he chose to listen to Eve and not grab her and run:  When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Gen. 3:6-7)
     Why didn’t God step in?  He was watching no doubt—the universe is always under His gaze.  He is not an absentee Landlord.
     Yet, the power to love is the power to reject.  God watched as His children rejected His words, which were predicated on love.  Satan twisted God’s words and insinuated that God’s motive was denial—denying Adam and Eve knowledge that was rightfully theirs.  Satan hisses into her ear:
     God is a control freak—He thinks that only He deserves knowledge!  Take that bite and look at all you will know!  Your ignorance is God’s purpose and my job, Eve, is to enlighten you.  God keeps you in the dark with His autocratic rules, but my way is the high way:  freedom to be like God.  The world you are in is so limited—I promise you freedom!  God is not the benevolent Creator you take Him for—He’s a despot, eager to control you and hold you back from reaching your full potential!  Good, Eve, good…bite that apple and Adam, now it’s your turn.  Good. 
     If God had stopped this, would Satan have slithered away, never to seek to tempt them again?  Satan would have bided his time, and waited again for another opportunity.  Satan cannot destroy God, but he can infiltrate God’s creation and destroy the ones nearest and dearest to God’s heart:  His children.  Satan would have relentlessly gone after them until he accomplished his mission:  estrange Adam and Eve from their Creator by appealing to their logic, and with them then acting on it, be disobedient.  Satan’s machinations brought about the ultimate weapon against God’s own:  death. 

Next Time:  Losing the Divine Gamble

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Winter Storms, Spring Sun

     In the mountains, winter never leaves without a fight.  We have had some beautiful sunny days, with lovely cumulus clouds and warm breezes.  We sigh in relief and say, "Spring is finally here."  The hills have the green tint of grass and an occasional flower has poked up its little face to the sun.  Yet, today, BOOM!  Snow and wind and rain and more snow.  Winter has adamantly reasserted itself.  The clouds are veiled in shimmering dove grays and white and the snow line has dropped down as if December is back.
    I look anxiously at the primroses I planted in pots last week, hoping the very cold temperatures do not doom them to an early demise.  The bulbs I planted last spring are just poking up their thin green stalks, and I worry that winter may slap them silly and they won't make it.
    Yet, God's creation tells of His character: 
The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19)

    God's creation speaks of Who He is, and how much He is involved with His world.  So, what is this season saying to us of His character?

     The cold may test us, but the sun always breaks through:  Yes, the snow and rain is unpleasant, especially if you have already felt the warmth of the sun, but the sun will eventually stay.  Time captures us and we chafe under its yoke, wanting winter to pass quickly and spring to stay.  It's easy to believe in Him when the sun is shining warmly on your face.  Yet, look at His creation:  the plants start to come up from their winter sleep because just enough sun has warmed the soil.  They rise in expectation of warmer days to come.  They rise because God keeps His promises:  the sun will break through, and the cold grip of winter will loosen.  Spring is a promise He keeps year after year.
     If you are in the winter of your life, He keeps His promises to stand by you in the storm, and to part the clouds.  The Son will break through and will rewarm your spirit.  Winter does pass:  

"See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land" (Song of Solomon).

     Hard, cold and blustery rain is necessary for growth.  I just visited some friends in Nevada where the rainfall is so minimal that even though a lot of soil is present, very little in the way of plant life is evident.  I saw hardly any green because the Washoe Basin is in the "rain shadow" of the Sierras.  Rain does fall--the huge amount of snow in the Sierras attests to that--but the storms cannot surmount the high summits of the peaks and the rain stays on the California side of the mountains, and barely makes it over to the Nevada side.   So, while I look outside my window at the blustery day we are having, with its cold wind and snowy rain, it is this very water that will supply the soil with moisture that will bring forth wildflowers and grass.  Growth requires rain and warmth.
     It is never easy to stand in a storm.  But that same rain that falls on your face is also falling on your faith:  it will bring growth.  He reminds us:  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

     Finally, keep singing.  The meadow larks are in full song right now.  The air is cold, the mountains are gray and the ground is cold and wet, and yet, listen...a meadow lark sings a praise chorus over the land.  The birds do not cease singing when the sun ceases shining.  If anything, the song adds a sweetness to the day.  The larks sing, knowing deep in their hearts that the sunny days are coming.  The goldfinches outside my window are a mottled yellow, gray and white, but they bounce around the feeders.  They know that their beauty is coming and in a few weeks, they will be golden jewels.  God put the song in their hearts for us to hear and be reminded of His work in us.  We may be mottled in plumage but we can still sing. 
     Watch and see what the Lord will do.   Meanwhile, here's what you can do:

"Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4).

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