Sunday, August 7, 2016

The puzzle of God's name finds no solution in the letters

Of all the concepts in the Jewish scriptures, I am always drawn to the ones that pose a puzzle. The best kind of puzzles are the ones that look simple but have a unlimited depth of wisdom or application in them. They can create the illusion of an easy solution but frustrate the unaware novice. I've learned that simple is not easy.

I began as a novice in puzzles being sucked in to the elegance of the proposition. But then the frustration of not finding the easy solution to match an "easy" problem has stuck with me since then. I feel it serves some justice to solve any kind of difficult problem when it arrives in my lap to be able to say that it didn't get the better of me again.

There's the problem in Genesis of where Cain and Seth got their wives. I think that's not the point of the story. The author certainly didn't care. You really can't apply that to your life easily. What about that part where Cain is driven from the land to wander the earth and is afraid? He was afraid of who would kill him. So what other person not in this early tribe was going to kill him? That's not really the point either. I wouldn't be talking to anyone at work about that part. The part about sin and judgment is more important though and does deserve a conversation when it's appropriate.

That four letter word

Another problem that seemed worth some investigation was when Moses asked God for His name.
They didn't have much in the way of physics terminology back then so the answer of "I'm called the sum total of gravitational potential energy plus internal energy of masses plus electromagnetic radiation" wouldn't have meant much. How do you tell a curious and respectful guy what your basic way to be addressed is if you don't have words for that, especially when you might be mixed up with some pop Egyptian gods?
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

I don't think Moses would have cared for the scientific description even if he knew his physics. I don't think that was the point. There's something that Moses wanted to know that wasn't about a definition. In physics, the point of that formula that describes the way things are has to do with conservation of energy where nothing is lost and nothing is gained because we live in a closed system according to the guys who count the beans that control the universe. Not a bad concept for an eternal God. Still not the point.

The tetragrammaton that serves to describe the name of HaShem in the story is a puzzle. People like to go mystical on it with finding gender and creative energy in the letters themselves. People go crazy over not saying the name out of holiness, never using anything but that name out of law abiding third commandment following adherents, to using other pronunciations which is a good compromise hoping that by following both they won't sin. I don't think that's the point.

Avoidance of an answer

Does a person trying to be humble about his nature come off as mysterious because he withholds information? Sometimes, but maybe out of misinterpretation. If the president of a business that isn't recognized by some of the warehouse workers, like on Undercover Boss, gets asked what he does, would it be seen as mysterious for him to describe it as "I get work done occasionally" ? There's a humorous side to the vagueness there. Was God being coy also then by being vague?

God's description of His name was purposely avoiding any relationship to the gods of the day by not giving a name. You have to find a way to set yourself apart and yet still be approachable. That's a tough problem. But then God explains. He sets out a name vaguely associated with the conservation of energy by saying that He's always been the same amount of God and will never lose His status there. In fact, it's all that there is. Always has been, always will be. It's physics in a nutshell.
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15)

The relationship is the point

Then he tells Moses that this divine force has intent. The intent is to make a relationship with His people. He also backs it up with credentials from the meaningful tapestry of their tribal memories. He's hitting all cylinders here. God has a relationship with this new guy, Moses, and it's the same relationship that has protected and prospered His people throughout generations. This is His name. The name of their successes past, the name of a call to action now, and the name of their deliverance to a promised land in the future. This is the point.

The point is not to analyze the four letters and their relationship to each other, the relationship to unknown sounds, or the relationship to the entire Kabbalistic cosmological body of knowledge. It's not about the what you see, but about what you don't see. It's what you remember and know in your heart.

Why would you think that after your spouse goes to the store and gets some GE light bulbs which light up the house that you can then go write big GE letters with a Sharpie on anything and it will light up? Is there anything special to the letters? You know it's not about the letters because it wasn't about a name. It was about what God represented to the Hebrews and also what God didn't want to be associated with. They had that problem with the golden calf very soon after which showed that the concept wasn't too clear about how different God was from the Egyptian thinking of gods.

So it's also about honor, humbleness, and not emptying God's titles of any of His true nature. It's about not profaning another divine description which doesn't do God justice. It's a tricky problem with an elegant solution that isn't about hiding anything inside the numerical equivalents of the letters but about hiding the true meaning of God's name throughout history in your heart. Keep it secure. Keep it holy. And keep the covenant.

May you Lord God always be holy in our hearts when we seek to call your name, the name that has always existed and will always exists. Burden our hearts to call your name, to help us walk straight through a mass of complex problems and in Your powerful ways, find a simple solution by relying on you to take us there. Shame and correct us if we fail to remember that you are the God that kept His hand on Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And bring us joy as we follow you in solving life's most difficult problems.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Dreaming to eliminate God when we are bound in a covenant to Him

Have a nice day, God bless. [Now God waits on who or what you want Him to bless]

What's on TV? Whatever. Let's see how Jimmy or Stephen is doing tonight. And Corden is my buddy, we'll watch him. [Now God is waiting to grow relationships between you and people connected by your shared experiences]

Check the weather and see if it's going to rain. Turn on the sprinkler system if it isn't. Is there a soda in the fridge? I could use a cool drink. Do you think they'll catch those guys that robbed the bank tonight? Let's watch the news and see what they think. [God waits to see if anyone will ask for His intervention]

Should I call my mom or wait until she calls? I'm tired so I don't want to think about it. [God waits to have you ask for His help to guide you.]

We dream to eliminate God

God's influence in our lives is taking a hit. We control more of getting our desires and slowly reduce His impact in our lives because we have less need. We're really dreaming. Everything can be automated somehow, where in times past, to get some results of any kind, people had to sacrifice a perfectly good livestock animal. But in building this edifice of satisfaction, we block the voice of the Creator and can easily be crushed by the reality of His strong arm leaving us in embarrassment.

I was looking at the sky yesterday. It was different than the day before when it was clear. It was menacing dark layers of rain carrying streamers, blue and gray, moving contrary to each other. Could we control that? Is there one app I could download that would make any difference at all? When I'm feeling depressed, is there anything besides distraction to numb the awareness to make me feel better?

This dream world that results by shutting out the light of our creator is a world of our making. Not God's. We control our house temperature, flow of water, lights, answers to questions via the internet, entertainment, and our sleeping environment. We can work hundreds of feet up in an office building, not contact anything God created including the food we eat for lunch, and communicate with anyone in the world real-time. We fly sheltered from storms, sail in boats that rarely sink, and take chariots of steel that require no stable or hay. And we make nations fear us by the nuclear weaponry we stockpile. But it's only a dream that we have control over it.
For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Eccl 5:7)
I hate augmented reality. That's just a digital dream. If you want to augment something for me, don't make me carry around a piece of metal that talks to me. I want a relationship with someone who has a relationship with the living God. God has taught me that I get the most out of life when I have a real relationship with Him. Augment my life with care, understanding, appreciation, support. Tell me a story that expands my reality.

Our non-godly perception

When we live in our world, God has little chance at making us see physical things except in terms of our filters. Removing a filter, like a pair of gloves, means letting your hands get dirty. We look at another's life through their eyes and see the grungy family of angry kids or the dark depression of an unhappy spouse. There's life going on there in emotions and needs. So much life is occurring all around us at every second, but filters are so easily applied. Shutting the door, turning to work, ignoring a phone call, or finding a distraction making it too late to respond all are filters which drain the vibrant life from our everyday travels.

The peer pressure to ignore God is increasing. As more people depend on science to fulfill their needs and dreams, there's more at stake to defend the right to do as we please. We have businesses to keep afloat to support people and keep us financially secure. We have accustomed ourselves to a less active lifestyle. This dichotomy of life tears us between the easy road of commercialism and the dusty trail of an ethical and moral justice.

As God's mercy lets us travel down that road, we intimidate others into believing that we are doing the right thing and it's those religious people that have the old-fashioned ideas about God's power to change that is the less powerful option. Well, of course, it used to be that way, but now we have figured out why we are right and God was just a minor character in a play that has no relevance to our modern lives today. We're so much more civilized now.

We lie to ourselves because others do also. Just do a search for "the only ? you'll ever need" and fill in the question mark with anything you want. You'll find investments, beauty products, cleaning products, diet books, kitchen equipment and more. It's easy to let advertising teach us how to talk to ourselves. Then we start lying to God.

Is it not God that has the full control of life outside of our personal little realm? We just don't encounter His realm often enough to know it. We could pray more often or maybe just start to pray. Occasionally a person will step into a puddle of spirituality and it becomes a mystical image framed with a godless world view put into a picture album for posterity. But our spiritual lives should be more than that. We should be able to sense the divine in the clouds and lightning and wonder how it all works as one awesome unified system that we are invited to be a part of.
For I know that the LORD is great
And that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
Who makes lightnings for the rain,
Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries. (Psalm 135: 5-7)

Our need to relate to God

Seeing life represented in a film lets us escape the responsibility of a reply. That's why it's called an escape. But God expects us to reply because we are in a covenant relationship with Him, He tells us to act like we mean it by treating each other the same way. A cartoon character will never come back to apologize that they made you think the wrong way. Are you still wearing your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Mighty Mouse t-shirt? Enough already. What is the meaning of a friend who God has put in your path, if it's not in someone to turn to and talk with?

We have a need to be in covenant with God. His conversation and actions always plead "Return to me." It was after many weeks of living in paved and groomed apartments and working around too much unfriendly technology that my hands craved the gritty soil that I grew up around as a farmer. When I saw a cornfield one evening walking out of my structured environment, the need to connect was so strong that I went over, stood in the head-high rows, and knelt down to just rub a handful of dirt between my hands. There was life there. It revived me.

Hear our prayers, Lord God, king of the dirt, the corn, the clouds and the rain. How awesome is your power that both brings hurricanes and tornadoes, but still is merciful enough to wait for us to come back to your call in a conversation that has been going on for millennia. Direct our hearts to please you and provide for each other in what we need right now whether a simple conversation or a small meal. Forgive us for hiding from you or putting our hope in technology and our own ways. You will find a way to convince us, I know it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Call - listen - act, the prophetic cycle of Elijah reveals mercy and a covenant relationship

Prophets get a call when things are bad and are going to get worse. That was the situation in Elijah's time when the message came through to make things worse and start a three and a half year drought. The trouble was that King Ahab didn't know things were bad.

The king married a bossy idolatrous wife and learned how to rule from a rebellious apostate dad. He had 450 stubborn misguided priests that were responsible for irrigation of the food crops by placating the mean ol' Baal idol. Another 400 were probably interested in a bountiful crop harvest by adoring his business associate idol Asherah. But, it was bad because Ahab broke the Sinai covenant between the one true living God and the people who followed Baal in his footsteps.

Elijah and God had an understanding. God asked him to do stuff and he did it. Maybe that's why he was the last prophet standing in the Northern Kingdom. He heard, he did. No hesitation. I like that. No back talk, no whining. I imagine a motorcycle-riding leather bomber jacket wearing long-hair that could intimidate you with his stare from fifty feet. Elijah was tough.
Now it happened after many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.” So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria. (1 Kings 18:1-2)

Why do prayers not get answered?

I'm sure Obadiah, the king's assistant and devout follower of God, was feeling the results of the drought. If he was praying for rain which I'm sure crossed his mind, why wasn't God answering his prayers? What made God wait so long that the normal water sources had run dry and the royal family was in danger of losing their livestock? Wouldn't God bless the house of Ahab for the sake of this man's prayer? Wouldn't God want this for someone that special?

Maybe there was a reason. The reason might be to teach us a lesson about patience. My position isn't high enough in the kingdom of God to gain that kind of approval because I'm impatient. Elijah is much more patient than me so I should learn to be more like him. If I had a mantle to wear like him, I could be more patient. If God would just speak to me, I would be more satisfied. Maybe if he took my annoying neighbors away or got me a new house in Florida, I could be more patient. I think all the important prophets are moving to Florida nowadays. I'll just move there now.

Maybe it's a different reason. God is certainly compassionate. If after dealing with the bad, maybe this time is a time of healing. But nothing changed for three and half years. Maybe Elijah needed time to heal and hide out while King Ahab was being dealt with. So the point then is a drought that affects the whole country just for one man to heal because he started a fight with the king? That's certainly looking at it from a prophet's perspective who isn't bringing a message of repentance. But Elijah was a true prophet who asked for repentance. God was fed up with idol worshiping royals and a nation that drifted into apostasy who needed some good swift kicks to get them to pay attention.

Maybe it's a another reason. The reason might be that I'm not as holy as Elijah so God must not be listening to me. If you are holy, you have a whole bunch of faith because I've heard that if you just get enough faith, you can do anything. Oh wait, I'm not supposed to that, it's God that's supposed to do anything. Wait, I should have faith that I can do anything because God uses me. But what if I'm doing that with the wrong motive? But I should have faith that I have the right motive. But how do I get that? Oh, yeah, God has control of that also I think. Is there something I can take for this spiritual blockage?

It's not about you

Unfortunately, the blockage I've put in the way is me. All these reasons are about me. I've taken away God's compassion, mercy, or power and made it my responsibility. Didn't Elijah get the call, listen and then act? He didn't plan, do, check, and act like business teaches us. My responsibility is not to get in the way of God when He wants to act. If the action is not to do something for some reason, then the worst thing I can do is use my will to act against God. You start doing things on your own, ignoring God's quiet voice and it's downhill from there. You go from bad to worse.
It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kings 17:31-33)

It's about Him

Reasons that put the spotlight on one person or another are too narrowly focused. Reasons that work are centered around HaShem and get his nation and those in charge of it returning to worship Him through repentance and obedience. He wants a relationship restored. And it's His patience that is tested and his holiness that is impugned. When the one who created our hearing calls, we should listen and act in faith like Elijah.
At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. “Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again. (1 Kings 18:36-37)
It's about the covenant relationship with God's people. He shows tremendous mercy to wait patiently before he answers hoping to let his people make a better decision and allows them to take action to confirm their eventual judgment. Even King Ahab, after being humiliated by God by answering Elijah's call for a fiery sacrifice and the slaughter of his priests, came around by repenting some and gained some favor in God's eyes.

O Lord God of the universe who keeps us and waits patiently for our slightest move in the right direction so that you have something to work with to encourage us and develop our best behavior, teach us how to listen to your call. Teach us how to be like a willow in the wind that bends towards your will though the wind be harsh, when others see it as a disturbance of their shallow and selfish world. And let us know how to then act in wisdom to be like You in mercy and kindness.
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