Tuesday, March 24, 2015

But what do you believe?

Years ago, for my fifty-sixth birthday, I received a beautiful, leather-bound NIV study bible. After reading it here and there, checking the commentaries and notes, and finding them reasonably reliable, I settled down to a serious study of the book of Exodus, called Shemot, ‘Names’, in Hebrew. This book has always represented for me the beginning of my life in Christ. After youthful years of wandering, I was brought back to the living God by reading this passage in the Jerusalem Bible,

Then Moses said to God, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” And God also said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons of Israel: ‘Yahweh, 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 for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.”
Exodus 3:13-15 JB

So, spiritually then, I had to first become a Jew before I could fully return to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Meeting Him first in YHWH, Yod-hey-vav-hey, pronounced Yahweh, Him who Is, the living God of my fathers, it wasn’t lost on me that ‘the God of’ was repeated three times, nor that earlier, in Genesis, called Bereshit, ‘In the beginning’, in Hebrew, God as Elohim, the plural of El, ‘God’, spoke to Someone, ‘Let us make man in Our own image’ (Genesis 1:26). ‘I was born a Christian, and I was going to die a Christian,’ I guessed. This was already decided, because ‘God is faithful’ (2 Timothy 2:13).

Back to the topic, so I’d been studying Exodus, and when I came to the Ten Plagues which YHWH inflicted on Egypt to induce Pharaoh to ‘let His people go,’ and read the study notes, I was surprised to find this kind of commentary,
7:17 the water of the Nile… will be changed into blood. There is some reason to believe that the first nine plagues may have been a series of unprecedented intensifications of events that were part of the Egyptian experience, events that in their more usual form did not have anything like the catastrophic effects of the disasters God brought on Egypt… If that was the case, the first plague may have resulted from an unparalleled quantity of red sediment being washed down from Ethiopia during the annual flooding of the Nile in late summer…
Following this train of thought, similar explanations of ‘what may have been the case’ were presented in the notes as each of the Ten Plagues was recounted. I expected that a good commentary on scripture, especially when it’s published in the Bible, would leave alone this kind of speculation. If I were a new Christian, reading this kind of thing might prepare me to regard the Word of God as something to pick apart in the same way, instead of letting the Word pick me apart.

In my case, by means of studying the Word and letting it interpret itself to me and mold my thinking for forty years of living within the Church enclosure, I am able to ‘pass over’ these glosses and accept them for what they’re worth. Still, they demonstrate ‘what’s out there,’ a culture of speculation and human thinking that is suffocating the Church. ‘Miracles just don’t really happen.’

This Lord’s Day is Evangelismós, the annual commemoration of the ‘Good News,’ the announcement to a virgin in Israel that YHWH the Holy One—blessed be He!—had selected her to be the mother of the Messiah.

For Orthodox Christians, understanding this historical event helps put Mary the Theotókos in right perspective—she is the first Christian, the first to hear the Good News and to receive it, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’ (Luke 1:38 JB). Her cooperation ‘got the ball rolling.’

In the same way, according to Archimandrite Vasileios, by our cooperation with the Good News we also become theotókoi, ‘God-bearers,’ incarnators of the Word. Anything beyond this becomes speculation. But one thing is for sure—it really happened! It was miracle, pure and simple.

Thankfully, the comments in that new study bible were ‘orthodox,’ they did not introduce any speculation, but it still leaves me wondering, ‘Why is an Old Testament miracle open to naturalistic explanation, and not this?’

Now, why talk about the Ten Plagues and the Annunciation in almost the same breath? Are they related somehow?

Well, yes, they are. They are both instances of God’s direct intervention in human history, where He bypasses the zigzag of interlocking events and renews His creation through a rent in the curtain of existence ‘with the lightning flash of His divinity,’ tí astrapí tís theótitos (Resurrectional Apolytikion, 2nd Tone). They are both ‘miracle,’ and they are both liberating. The world system, the kósmos, has a hard time dealing with these. It neither wants nor needs them. It will do anything to explain them away.

But what do you believe?

At this time of the year we have a curious concurrence of the main holy days of two ancient faiths, Judaism and Christianity. For Jews, Pesach, ‘Passover, the feast of freedom, the commemoration of their liberation’ from slavery and Egypt, ‘the historical event that defines them as God’s people.’ For Christians, Pascha, ‘Passover, the feast of freedom, the commemoration of their liberation’ from sin and death, ‘the historical event that defines them as God’s people.’

Wait a minute! What’s wrong with these statements? Why do they seem so similar? Is there some mistake, or are we really talking about the same thing? Didn’t you mean to say ‘Easter’ when you said ‘Pascha, Passover?’

No, not really. There’s only one living God, the Holy One of Israel—blessed be He!—and ‘He is the One who will justify the circumcised because of their faith and justify the uncircumcised through their faith’ (Romans 3:30 JB). The Church was never intended to deviate from Judaism, but human weakness kicked in, from both sides!. At this point, I should probably just direct you back to the Word of God, to holy apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly chapters 9, 10 and 11.

Why have I written down these thoughts of mine at all?

Because, beloved brethren of Israel the old and of Israel the new, ‘the time is very close’ (Revelation 1:3). The time is very close for your coming back together again, where ‘there will be one flock and one Shepherd’ (John 10:16). Messiah is coming. ‘The One who guarantees these revelations repeats His promise: I shall indeed be with you soon’ (Revelation 22:20 JB).

But what do you believe?

1 comment:

Jim Swindle said...

I can't agree with some of the things you say here, but I strongly agree with your comments about those bad study notes, that "If I were a new Christian, reading this kind of thing might prepare me to regard the Word of God as something to pick apart in the same way, instead of letting the Word pick me apart."

Concerning Mary, she was uniquely blessed and chosen by God, and yet I find it odd to call her the first Christian. Jesus said there was none greater born among women than John the Baptist, but that the least in the kingdom is greater than he. My understanding is that neither Mary nor John the Baptist was yet in the Kingdom, though they surely end up in the Kingdom.

Of course, our understanding will never yet be complete in this life, so I can't say with absolute certainty that I'm right in the interpretation of such lesser points as to whether Mary should be called "Christian" at the point of the annunciation or not until later.