Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why Didn't God Intervene in the Holocaust? Part IV

Now we will trace humanity’s journey from the garden to the larger world.  We are also observing the trajectory of evil and how it manifested itself in our earliest history.  Before we follow our First Parents as they make their way in the world, let’s review what their disobedience brought in to creation.  

     Death enters in to stay:   Adam was instructed by God directly:  “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:17)  Not only would will Adam and Eve die, their spirits will die as well.  The covering for their sin required the death of innocent animals.  The blood poured from a multitude of sacrificial animals as we travel through the Old Testament.  This blood was a visual reminder of how death was not part of the original creation and how blood must cover sin, to restore fellowship between a holy God and His fallen children. 
     Not only will disease and old age take away the lives of Adam’s descendants, but Adam and Eve witnessed the death of their son.  The first act outside the Garden was murder.    
     Toil enters in to stay:  The earth was abundantly fruitful until Adam sinned.   
     Before Adam:  “and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface…” (Gen. 2:6).   
     After Adam:  Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” (Gen 3:18)  Thistles and thorns dominated the landscape and no longer would the earth gladly yield its harvest to man.  Famine stalked the land; poor harvests meant death for many people.  Death came to plants as well:  blights, rusts, and molds withered and destroyed them.  The ground itself was “cursed” because of Adam’s sin.  Adam’s descendants will live precariously from it, never sure if the harvest will suffice. Death will always be one bad harvest away. 
     Pain enters in to stay:  Eve will scream in childbirth, so that even in the giving of new life, her cries will be a stark reminder of sin and its curse.  Her descendants’ babies will occasionally die.  Husbands will stand helplessly by as some wives bleed to death after labor.       
      Eve will be “ruled over” by her husband, and her descendants will walk under the controlling hand of the men in the world--stifled, suffocated and sometimes killed.  Some men will rule with love.  Some will rule with hate. 
     Displacement enters in to stay:  Humans sense this creation is not quite right.  We have an ancient memory of a golden age, a time when the planet didn’t seem so hostile to us.  We have been trying to get back to Eden since the day we left.  We are wanderers and try to desperately recreate home.  We feel unsettled as a species, always searching for security and safety.  Adam and Eve wandered and their descendants did so as well, ever restless in spirit.      

Adam and Eve’s Family
     We meet Abel and Cain.  Both are toiling:  Abel manages the flocks and Cain tills the soil.  The death of sheep provides food and clothing to Adam’s family and the earth’s abundance comes only from work: “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LordAnd Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Gen. 4:2-5) 
      Interesting.  Abel is honoring God by bringing Him the best from the flock—the firstborn.  Look at the faith this takes:  I give the firstborn to God with no guarantee that second-borns will appear.  I am trusting God and His goodness to bring forth multiple generations and thus the firstborn is His.  If nothing appears after that, then I am still honoring God. 
     Look at Cain, however.  He is the firstborn son, and clearly knows what he has to do:  bring an offering. (If the younger brother knows this, surely the elder knows it.)  What does he bring?  Not the first fruits, but “some of the fruits of the soil.”  “Some”--not the best, not the first of the harvest, but “some.”  Cain, like Adam listening directly to God, was instructed on what to do directly by his father. 
    Cain, listen to me:  Yes, we toil, but what is yielded first belongs to Him as an acknowledgement that this is His creation and He still provides for us, even though we don’t deserve it.  We deserve only thistles and thorns, but He still allows the cursed soil to bring forth grains to mill, berries to pick and kale to pull.  We are blessed even in the midst of the curse.  So, don’t forget:  Give the best to God and trust Him for the rest. 
     The next thing that entered into creation to stay was rejection of God’s very words:  Cain, like his father, heard what he should do and yet chose to disobey.  If God looked “with favor” on Abel’s offering but not so on Cain’s, then clearly Abel was being obedient and Cain was not.   Cain followed his own logic and thought his offering was acceptable. 
     We create our own version of how things should be, rebelling against God’s very words.  The serpent’s words of “Did God really say?” will echo throughout our history, leading us to create thoughts and actions we approve of and that consequently we will act upon. 
     Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:6-7) 
     Listen to Me, Cain:  I know that your offering seems right to you, but I have expressly told you what to offer.  Your brother’s is living proof of that.  This logic, this rebellion, this sin, will destroy your relationship with Me.  Like your parents, who could eat any fruit but one, you can make an offering aligned with My instructions, and I will continue to fellowship with you.  Ignore My words and sin will consume you.  Hear My words and you will walk in freedom.
     Result?  Did Cain run and get the right offering?  Did he decide that fellowship with his God was the most important aspect to his existence?  That God’s very words were life and he wanted to remain in that life?  No.
     Now murder entered into creation to stay.  Cain lures Abel into a field for the sole purpose of killing him.  The Garden of God’s presence was replaced with a field of dirt and spilt blood.  The wet grass of the Garden showed God’s footprints as He passed.  The field of dirt will show two sets of footprints and then only one.   
     Cain’s response will echo chillingly throughout our history:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Our First Parents’ sin was against God Himself; their descendants will sin against God and each other.  
      Listen carefully to the first cry of a mother of a murdered child.
      Look ahead and see the Holocaust reflected in that blood-soaked dirt.    

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Didn't God Intervene in the Holocaust? Part III

     Where are we?  In looking at one of humanity's most spectacular atrocities, I am troubled about the nature of evil in our universe.  This question set me on a spiritual journey a long time ago, and I still wrestle with it.  I am seeking to distill my thoughts over the years into a series of blogs.  
     I have been looking at our First Parents and how God placed them in a Garden, where everything they needed was provided and their fellowship with God was as natural as breathing.  God's wanted to mature His created beings, and so placed one--only one--thing that was forbidden.  That very Tree became a place of decision, where a Satanic question hissed from the snake: "Did God really say..."  God could have intervened and knocked that apple from Eve's hand.  But He allowed her to act in accordance with her desire.  So, too, with Adam.  This inaugurated sin and death into God's creation.   Yet God still provided for His children.

God’s Solution:  Atonement Provided by an Innocent Lamb

   Then God, finished with His description of how a sin-corrupted creation will play out in the lives of the Adam, Eve and the Serpent, delivers not another speech, but prepares a  solution:  “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Gen.  3:21)

     Think on this a moment:  Adam and Eve have never seen death.  They were informed by God of its existence and how it would enter their world if they disobeyed, but the actual contours of it were alien to them. 

     Imagine seeing God walk over to a lamb.  It is quietly grazing in the grass.  It comes over to Him, in utter trust.  He strikes it and it falls to the ground.  He walks over to another lamb.  He strikes it and it falls.  Adam and Eve stare dumbfounded at the motionless creatures lying on the ground.  The skipping steps and gentle bleating are gone.  The other animals around them start to feel in their breasts the first flutters of fear—the fear that will drive their descendants away every time a human being approaches them. 

     God will then remove their skins, and the blood will flow with a shocking redness to the ground beneath.  God signals Adam and Eve to approach.  The lifeless eyes stare up at them.  Adam’s heart feels a burden he has never experienced before…these little creatures had nothing to do with his actions this day.  They were nowhere near the Tree when he took that fateful bite.  Yet, here they lay, in the circle drawn around him by his sin.    

     God gently wraps the skin around Adam’s quivering body.  The skin touching his skin feels strange.  Eve’s beautiful body, whose very form he takes such delight in, is now marred by an ungainly covering.  But the covering is sufficient.  God walks away.

     God has provided “atonement,” which in Hebrew means “covering.”  He covered Adam and Eve by His own hand.  They stood there, with nothing to offer.  They hid in their shame and then stood naked before their God in their sin. 

     We now listen in as God moves away from His children, whose bodies are covered by  the skin of innocent lambs; lambs killed for no other reason than to cover, to atone for, their sin.  God’s love and provision bleeds through even in the midst of His stained creation.  God surveys His Garden and comments to His Son, Who walks beside Him and sees the lamb’s death portending His own future:

  “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen. 3:21-24)

Confronted by God and Driven Out
     So, our Parents are driven away by God Himself.  It is not because God is angry and vengeful.  If that were so, why did He cover them?  He covered them so He could confront them.  God cannot look upon evil:  "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing..." (Hab. 1:13)  God saw the covering upon His children and not their sin.  He confronts them in love:  lest they eat disobediently of the other Tree, the one that provides life everlasting and dwell in their fallen state forever, they are driven out.  
     Can you imagine man living in his fallen state forever?  No redemption, no renewal...just a perpetual state of alienation from God.  Man would have to be continually covered, for sin would never cease.  Lamb upon lamb would have to die.  Every shadow in the Garden would see Adam hiding in it--and always the same question echoing through time:  "Adam, where are you?"
     So, in His fierce love, God drove them out.  Guarded by His angels, with a bright flashing sword of judgment, Adam and Eve traipsed away, looking over their shoulders.  The future ahead of them was unknown.  Who knows what their descendants would be capable of?  

     Look at us:  we now know good and evil.  We are equally capable of acting on that knowledge.  We will build the Sistine Chapel and paint breath-taking images on its ceiling, carve David from marble and build orphanages to house children.  We will tend the poor, provide for the sick and seek to relieve the needy.  
     We will also build Auschwitz and place the mocking “Work Makes Freedom” over its gate.  We will learn the many ways to torture one another.  We will drive out the poor, shun the sick and curse the needy.  
     God places an expiration date on man’s existence outside the Garden.  Eternal evil was never to be in God’s plan, only eternal life with Him.  So, God drove man out.  The Tree that would bestow eternal life was guarded until one day His Son would mount another tree.  He would hang upon it to restore eternal life to God’s children. 

     But as Adam and Eve wandered outside the Garden, Satan kept whispering, “It’s God’s fault you are here.”  He has never stopped and nor will he until he resides in a flaming fire that will drown out his lies with its roaring.   
     Until then, we must face our own complicity in perpetrating evil.  We must face a fallen world, knowing our First Parents doubted God and turned to their own logic as to how things should be.  Their choice brought chaos into creation.  
     What was the first significant act outside the Garden, done by Adam's children?  The very next generation--only one removed from the Garden--was the murder of a brother by a brother.  The Holocaust is that murder writ large.  
Stay with me.  The journey will continue.


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."
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