‘And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them, and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Yeshua saw it, He was much displeased, and said to them, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the Kingdom of Elohiym. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of Elohiym as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them.’ (Mark 10:13-16)
‘And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David”, they were sore displeased and said unto Him, “Hearest thou what these say?” And Yeshua saith unto them, “Yea; have ye never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise’?” (Matthew 21:15, 16)
A lot can be learned from watching children. There are certain things they just naturally see much clearer than we often do. We generally see things best when we see them for the first time and children, being so new to the world, are in the business of seeing things for the first time. No doubt this is why little children are so amazed by things we might consider commonplace. They recognize the beauty and wonder of existence; merely picking up and lowering small children is, for them, an enormously entertaining experience. The little one will often be asking for more, even after the bigger one has become thoroughly exhausted.
Children take delight in simple things: in colors and shapes, and objects that spin and roll and squeak and shine; they are overcome by the wonder of the ‘ordinary’. Bigger children have the same love and desire for wonder, although they require something a bit more captivating, such as some time at a playground, or camping in the back yard. And, as humans age, the longing for the wonderful requires increasingly greater experiences: A brand new bicycle, seeing a large waterfall; a trip to a national forest, and so forth.
In a fallen world, familiarity is often fatigue. Things get old after a while. “Been there, done that; seen it before.” The desire for wonder remains with us—which is good—and our deep-seated intuition that something exists to satisfy that longing is, I believe, sound. It’s just that, over time, the experiences that can reach to bring us that feeling of wonder keep needing to increase in intensity.
Ultimately, each person comes to a point in life where nothing in the entire physical realm is able to fulfill our longing for wonder. This point represents a ‘fork in the road’, a decision to make. We can respond as the cynic and give up on hope by concluding that all such longings are simply irrational and unfulfillable. We may have a deep desire for ultimate meaning, to be a part of something wonderful, and we may feel an acute or muffled homesickness for something beyond the physical realm—and yet adhere stoically to the opinion that there is nothing there to satisfy the longing.
The other response, what we might call the children’s response, is to hold that the human desire for wonder, which is innate to us and which is clearly observed even in infancy, is something that has been placed in us for a reason. It points towards something that is, in fact, real.
So, these are the two choices: What the modern rationalist cynic says, or what the children believe. Is reality dull and grey? Is wonder an illusion? Or, is there something real, something that has both the beauty of a wonderful story and the intellectual soundness of solid fact?
I, myself, must side with the children. The answer to hope cannot be despair, just as the answer to hunger is not starvation. Instead, starvation is what results when the need, felt as hunger, fails to be met, and despair is what sets in when one comes to believe that their hope cannot be answered. Having no more use for despair than for starvation, therefore, I take the view that our desire for wonder properly belongs here; that something does, in fact, exist to meet our hope. Life, at its core, is beautiful and meaningful. Wonder is available.
Tragedy & Sorrow
Before discussing what our desire for wonder might point to, we need to take into consideration another statement, equally true and just as undeniable. This firm, unbendable reality is that life is hard, that most of human history has been a sad chain of tragedy, and that death and sorrow are facts of existence for each of us. Dozens of wars are raging in the world as you read this, with many of them involving children on one or both sides.
There are a multitude of diseases; there are natural disasters and malnutrition; there is cruelty and lying, adultery and broken homes. If I were ever to give a title to the story of humanity, I think it should be called ‘Earth’s Tears’, since so much of our race for most of our history has lived with sorrow as the backdrop of existence.
A coherent belief system, therefore, must be capable of recognizing that evil exists as an objective reality, of defining what evil is in some sort of comprehensive way, and of explaining why it is here. And this challenge is not met nearly as easily as it might at first seem. For, after the initial, shocked reaction of “what do you mean, define what evil is? We all know what evil is”, comes the realization that every attempt to define or even recognize evil necessarily depends on the existence of an absolute standard; and, an absolute standard of good and evil is precisely what so many modern belief systems so emphatically deny. Nevertheless, to deny the reality of good or evil makes life completely nonsensical and unworkable. Both must be explained.
I can only disagree with the eastern mystic who tells me, with the calmness of despair, “All is good.” Nor can I accept the cynical anger of the western agnostic who resigns himself to conclude “All is evil.” But, perhaps there is a third viewpoint, one which recognizes the crushing tragedies of humanity’s struggles as real—a reality that must be squarely engaged, honestly accounted for, and plausibly explained—while still holding to the hope that all our suffering is not in vain.
Perhaps some meaning can be found, even in the face of the worst evil, by the very act of our taking a stand against it and, through an understanding that our sorrows are not only seen, but do in fact touch the heart of the Seer. Perhaps when earth cries, Heaven cries with us.
Resolving a Dilemma
Life is beautiful. Life is tragic. Both statements are true and yet, together, they appear to form a contradiction. However, I am convinced that both of these truths can be understood within a single worldview; that they can, in fact, be reconciled. As a Christian, I believe that humans were created in the image of Elohiym. The passage which relates this (Genesis 5:1-3) states as well that after humans were created, Adam himself had a son in his image. This helps to give the sense in which this phrase is used: What makes a child ‘cute’ is this characteristic of being a ‘little likeness’ of the big parents—a ‘chip off the old block’.
As I understand it, the message being conveyed by the phrase “in the image of Elohiym” is that we are like Elohiym in many important ways, just as a child is like his or her parents in many important ways. I believe this explains well the tremendous gap between the minds of humans and that of animals; that we are made in Elohiym’s image and the beasts are not. Below I cite three examples of this difference:
· The first is that humans appreciate beauty for its own sake. I have never seen a dog staring with awe at the majesty of the ocean nor of a waterfall. Regardless of how breathtaking the view is, beasts just don’t seem to notice it. Bears and turtles are never observed enjoying the fragrance or colors of flowers, or the sounds of songbirds or the sight of a rainbow. It’s the human who is amazed at how magnificent a particular sunrise is, who is amused by the antics of an otter, and who is moved by the beauty of a melody. Further, we make ‘beauty’. When people design clothing, utensils or buildings, we have this habit of adding decoration that has in and of itself no real practical use.
None of this has any survival value and yet it is universal among human societies. Colors and stripes, designs and shapes, lines and curls and all manner of artistic effects drawn and painted and carved and chiseled and fastened and formed in a great variety of ways all around us; bells and chimes and songs, incense and perfume, table arrangements and kitchen décor, ornamental gardens and spiraled roof and winding stairs, and so forth. We simply delight in aesthetics. We create because we are made in the image of The Creator.
· As a second example, humans have this inescapable concept of justice. We react in one way to acts of kindness that we observe, and in a completely different way to atrocities—and not only those done to us or to those whom we know—but to people with whom we have no close connection at all, such as things done in places and times quite remote from us. And our basic understanding of principles of proper conduct is remarkably uniform, even though there are differences in the interpretation or application of such principles.
British dinner hosts might consider it impolite to make loud slurps at the table, while Japanese dinner hosts might think it impolite not to do so; but no society, anywhere or in any age, has ever believed it proper to be rude to a dinner host. Neither would any society consider a woman virtuous based firmly on her being exceptionally promiscuous.
Human societies universally agree on many fundamental principles—appreciation of honesty, courage, sincerity, self-sacrifice, generosity, etc.; and a disdain of laziness, hypocrisy, gossiping, wanton cruelty to animals, and so forth—even though many of these things have little or no effect on our survival as a species. We have a concept of justice because we are made in the image of a Righteous Judge.
· Thirdly, we use abstract thought. We can speak about past, present and future; we study history, discuss modern issues and make plans for next month. We can even reason about eternity, despite our inability to fully grasp it. Beasts live for the present, for survival and pleasure. They eat, drink, sleep, scratch and mate. Some animals spend time playing, but beasts don’t do much more.
A history of cows in twelve volumes wouldn’t make very lively reading, because the lives of cows are essentially grazing, and seeking better grazing grounds. The lives of humans, however, are about our beliefs, our desires, our decisions and the words and actions which spring from these abstract thoughts. We can think about inspiring things—like joy, meaning, truth, the spiritual realm, etc., and then we can express these concepts in words.
There are speaking parrots, but no parrot philosophers; animals simply do not think in those terms. It is humans who use ‘logos’, a Greek word meaning, essentially, thought (both expressed and unexpressed). We think abstractly and communicate such thoughts in speech, writing and other means because we are made in the image of Elohiym, Who, in John 1:1 is called The Logos (Word, Message, Thought). Elohiym is not merely some non-conscious, impersonal Force, but rather a Someone Who is self-aware, Who knows and thinks, and Who communicates these thoughts.
Humans do all of these things—and many other things as well—and have done so since our earliest times. As far back as recorded history or remains of ancient civilizations can show, we find evidence of these activities. And Genesis, as well, records that, even in the beginning generations of our race, humans were working with brass and iron and making musical instruments (Genesis 4:21, 22).
Further, these characteristics are true not only of the beginning of humanity, but also of the beginning of humans; children as young as two and three years’ old make up songs, delight in beauty and communicate spiritual and otherwise abstract thoughts. These are simply innate qualities of humans, qualities that beasts just don’t possess.
Animals have not even the beginnings of art or poetry, religion or philosophy. They don’t build monuments to famous ancestors, or record their words for posterity. They are amazing creations in their own ways, all parts of that orchestra which is our world, but the beasts were not made in Elohiym’s image.
The principle of all reality is proportion. By blowing certain things out of proper proportion, and by minimizing other things, academia often seeks to ignore or explain away the gap between humans and beasts. However, if we pause and try to be honest, looking at ourselves in the broad daylight of proper proportion, the dissimilarity is clear. And, I believe the best explanation for this immense difference is that humans are created in the image of Elohiym, and animals aren’t.
Human beings were made for a purpose, a good purpose, a holy and glorious purpose. We were loaded with many special gifts, and along with these gifts we were given certain responsibilities. Our two most important purposes—the principles that we were designed for—are to love Elohiym with all of our heart, and to love our fellow humans (our neighbors) as ourselves. These are the two greatest commandments upon which all else hangs (see Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 22:36-40; citing Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 and Leviticus 19:18, 34). The reason for this is that Elohiym is Love (1 John 4:7, 8, 16); love is the very Nature of our Creator. Elohiym made us to love us, to be loved by us, and for us to share His love with each other.
If we can accept this concept, that the fundamental nature of Elohiym is Love and Beauty, then we have a ready explanation for our inner conviction that life, at its core, is beautiful. Simply put, life is beautiful because Elohiym is beautiful (Psalm 27:4; Isaiah 33:17). In fact, Elohiym, being the Creator of all, is the ultimate Source of all that is good, majestic, beautiful and wonderful about our world: The scent after rain and bright autumn leaves, blue skies and tall mountains, rivers and forests, butterflies and kittens, snowflakes and strawberries, friendships and joy, ladybugs and meadows; the smell of wood and the sound of crickets, children and swans, singing and dancing, flowers and peacock feathers, sunsets and lakes, fresh breezes and starfish, gems and geodes, apple juice and northern lights, ocean waves and silk, hay and spring water—just to name a few. Very little of this can be explained as being absolutely necessary; after all, we certainly could have survived in a world less stuffed with splendor.
It is my contention that our Creator, beyond being great and wise and infinite and all-powerful, is every bit as much beautiful and majestic, gentle and kind, the type for Whom we can feel a sort of holy homesickness; the kind of Person Whom, if we could just somehow spend a day with Elohiym, we would no doubt be asking as our time drew to a close, “Well, can I spend tomorrow with You, too?”
It makes much more sense to me to believe that aesthetic talents and poetic inspiration are gifts from a conscious, personal Creator Who understands beauty, than to believe that such abilities derive ultimately from chemical reactions of molecules, which were preserved over many generations, strictly for their survival value. In other words, if it takes a poet to create a poem, what does it take to create a poet? I would say that it requires a poetic Elohiym, One Who understands, and from Whom originates the beauty and good found in our world. It is for this Person that we feel the longing, that deep-seated, innate desire for Wonder. His very Name is Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6).
When the world was originally created, there was no evil present at all. Everything was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Humans were given an important part to play in this creation. We were appointed to “have dominion over the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28). Elohiym put us in charge of this amazing creation, a world full of wonder (Psalm 115:16; Psalm 104: 24). We were created in innocence, the innocence of little children, and we were made for the purpose of being the people of Elohiym, “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:3-8). We were meant to be something holy and majestic, as bearers of Elohiym’s image; we were intended to fulfill our purpose of returning Elohiym’s love, of sharing it with each other, and of taking care of the world given to us.
For all of this to have meaning, Elohiym also endued us with free will, and this is a very important concept. Every sane husband desires that his wife and friends would love him and stand by him because they choose to do so freely, rather than by the influence of a large salary, or under the control of hypnotism or potent drugs, or out of being compelled by armed guards. None of these latter sorts of arrangements could be considered loving relationships by any stretch of the imagination. A loving relationship is all about choosing freely to love someone, even when being tempted to abandon that person. So, true love cannot be forced or bought or programmed. It must be freely chosen.
Some will contend that free will doesn’t really exist which, of course, is the logical consequence of naturalistic philosophy. After all, if we are no more than molecules reacting mechanically, there isn’t anyone inside of us making free decisions; there are only neurons firing as a result of stimuli, and hormones secreting due to physico-chemical processes. It’s one of those positions that cannot be proven absolutely true or false; but I don’t bother much with trying to disprove this objection, because nobody really believes that there is no free will.
Instead, we esteem love as one of life’s grandest things, which cannot exist in the absence of free will; and we hold people responsible for their free decisions. We get upset at mujahedeen who fly jets into buildings full of people, but not at the jets themselves, which actually did the damage. We are bothered by the prankster who keeps trying to trip us up—even if he never manages to succeed—but not by the person who actually does trip us, once we realize it was purely accidental.
We think well of courage, compassion and selfless service because they are acts of the will, not because they are merely physiological processes, like a burp or a hiccup, but processes that happen to benefit someone else. In fact, we appreciate acts of courage, compassion and selflessness even if they fail in their attempt to help us: ‘It’s the thought that counts.’ Examples such as these could be multiplied, but the point is that all of us already believe in free will. Our actions and reactions tell on us. There is no need to disprove a dogma when nobody believes a word of it anyway.
So, humans were made for the purpose of having a loving relationship with Elohiym, but we are not programmed to do so. We retain at all times the power to live for ourselves, to do our own thing, and even to be evil. We have the words ‘inhumanity’, or being ‘inhumane’ in our vocabulary. We are created as beings glorious enough to be hideous, and wise enough to do really stupid things. We can be inhumane and do things we were never intended for: rape, torture, genocide, cruel experiments on animals, heartless and greedy oppression of the poor, and so forth. But, we have no such words as ‘indogity’, ‘inbearity’ or ‘infishity’. Dogs do dog things, bears do bear things and fish do fish things. That’s just what they do; they cannot conceive of doing otherwise.
It’s the human that can commit inhumanity—horrible atrocities—for the same reason that we can do humane things, such as create beauty, make poetry, contemplate philosophy and religion, and perform breathtaking acts of selfless virtue. We can cry, because we can laugh.
Thus, free will, the gift that makes it possible for us to do evil, is what makes it meaningful when we choose to do good. A man or woman has the power to return, to look up into the sky and say, “God, I love You—I want to know You and be with You”. What gives this meaning is that it’s a choice that is neither forced nor programmed. It can be said, or left unsaid. Elohiym has left us free to choose a relationship with Him, or to reject it. The evils we see about us are, either directly or indirectly, the result of humanity’s decision to reject Elohiym and live for self.
All throughout history, whatever else people have believed, we have always understood that something is the matter with the human race. I have never heard or read anyone claim that society is precisely as it ought to be. This indicates two universally held beliefs: The first is that there is an absolute moral standard; the second is that humanity has fallen short of this moral standard. In the absence of either of these points, the statement that ‘something is the matter with humanity’ simply makes no sense.
The above assessment of the human condition correlates well with ancient traditions from all around the world. Such traditions are vague, of course, but they apparently preserve a very distant, foggy memory of a world kinder in its earliest days, of a time when we had something holy and dear that has somehow been lost.
All of this agrees well with the record of the Creation in Genesis 1 and 2, and of the Fall of Humanity in Genesis 3. The earth was originally created in a state of perfection and Elohiym gave humans an important role in His plan, but we made a mess of it. We have gone about to create our own perfect world, and have left Elohiym out of it. But sometimes, in those quiet moments of reflection it occurs to us, like an old memory from childhood, that we have lost our way.
To sum up, the message of the Bible gives a way to understand why there is so much beauty and wonder to life, and also why there is so much evil and tragedy. It helps us to both recognize and define evil, based on an absolute standard, and also to comprehend why evil exists. Elohiym is good (Nahum 1:7; Psalm 100:5), and thus His eternal Nature is the absolute standard for determining what is good or evil.
To say it more precisely, ‘good’ is defined as that which corresponds to the principles which make up Elohiym’s Nature-such as justice, kindness, honesty, and so forth. ‘Evil’, conversely, is whatever is not in accordance with such principles—e.g., injustice, malice, dishonesty, etc.—and/or the effects or consequences of the departure from this standard of goodness.
As for why evil exists, it is understood as the direct and indirect result of humanity’s abuse of free will. Evil is an act of, or a result of, rejecting the authority of the good Elohiym. Apparently, our Creator believes that a universe in which evil is possible would still be better than a universe where free will and love and meaningful relationships are not possible.
Ever since Genesis 3, when humans first began to rebel against Elohiym’s authority, our race has been in a steady, morbid spiral away from our Maker. Elohiym has not abandoned us, however; He is still calling and knocking (Revelation 3:20). It’s just that most of us don’t pay any attention.
This is how I see the relationship of the wonder of creation, and the sorrow of humanity. Life is beautiful. Life is tragic. The history of the world is a beautiful tragedy, a sad and touching story about an Elohiym Who loves, and people—who run away. Love stories are often tragic.
Of Welcome and Wonder
As a Christian, I believe in the validity of reason. I like to have some rational justification for my views. It’s not that I can prove, absolutely, that reason is valid. Any such proof would have to start by assuming that reason is valid, and would thus be circular, but I believe reason to be good because it allows me to make sense of the world. I simply could not operate without that.
As well, I find that I cannot function without taking steps of faith. I have never seen Siberia, nor even the Asian mainland, but I find myself attracted to the idea that all the people who speak of having been to such places, and all the publishers of maps and atlases, are telling the truth. Much more attracted, in fact, to this idea than to the conclusion that it’s all just one great big hoax. I believe, by a step of faith, what seems most probably true.
Herein is the connection between reason and faith. Very little can be proven absolutely true, and so the principle use of logic is to try to determine what is most probably true. And, proper faith is not simply a blind leap into the dark; it is rather the step we take to believe things that we cannot prove, or have not yet proven, absolutely true, but nevertheless seem to us most probably true based on the evidence we have available.
Is the water coming out of the kitchen tap this morning safe to drink? Did Winston Churchill really exist? Are the mom and dad I know my true biological parents? Some things we cannot prove, and other things we have never bothered to prove, and the sum of all this is that the vast majority of what we believe consists of views held by greater or smaller steps of faith. There is nothing wrong with this; it’s the only way humans can function. We deal with degrees of probability, and that instinct for the probable is what we call common sense. To believe what is most probably true is rational. To cling to what is overwhelmingly improbably is irrational. But, we all use both reason and faith. We have to.
This correlates generally well with two important parts of human beings: the intellect and the emotion. The needs of both the head and the heart were intended by our Creator to be met. We have a desire for both Truth and Beauty, for both Welcome and Wonder. The first of these, Welcome, is that search for truth, for stability, for things that make sense, for the familiar and secure—the kind of feelings we get from hearing “welcome home”, or, “it’s all going to be okay”.
The second need, Wonder, is that longing for beauty, for meaning, for hope, for a reality that surprises us with picturesque, poetic curiosity. We want something solid to depend on, something we can hold as rationally sound; and yet, we also want something to live for, something to believe in that inspires our imagination. Neither false hopes, nor meaningless facts, will do.
A good way to test a belief system is to see how well it can answer life’s biggest questions. There are five that I know of, and people have been asking them throughout our history. The questions themselves are good evidence for these two desires—the search for truth, and the longing for wonder:
1) Origins: “How did I get here?”
2) Identity: “Who am I”
3) Meaning: “Why am I here?”
4) Morality: “What is right or wrong?”
5) Destiny: “Where am I going?”
The set of responses which most adequately answers all five questions, I believe, is the one that will best meet the needs of the human spirit. By ‘adequate’ I mean that all of the questions are responded to, without any of them being dismissed as irrelevant; that each is answered plausibly, and that the set of answers is consistent, in that one answer does not contradict another.
Further, an adequate belief system must strongly cohere with reality, in the sense that it is capable of giving an explanation for the major characteristics of our world, such as the amazing beauty and profound tragedy that are evident all about us. In short, any belief system that forces people to simply shrug their shoulders at any questions about meaning or morality, or that allows one no more than to respond, “Just ‘cuz”, to important questions about why good or evil exists, is inadequate, being either incoherent, or false, or both.
A Curious Fact
It seems to me that people possess a certain built-in, natural inclination toward love. It would be difficult to think of a more common theme of songs and stories. People perish for lack of love; the understanding that someone cares has, in not a few instances, made the difference between life and death. And, not only do we need to receive love, but we have a need to show it to others.
What a curiously warm feeling we get from going out of our way to show compassion on a stranger, or from heartfelt forgiveness and mercy, or from comforting someone who’s down. In contrast, people who are habitually selfish, bitter or mean-spirited often experience health problems such as heart disease, ulcers or even mental breakdowns. I have never heard of a medical ailment caused by repeated acts of kindness (consider Proverbs 11: 17).
We operate best, then, when we are both giving and receiving compassion. We were designed to love and to be loved, to care for others and to be cared for; and I believe this says a good deal about our Designer. Whoever invented the telephone with both speaker and receiver, made it intending both to speak to someone and to listen to someone. In the same way, whoever created humans with the need to both love and be loved must be someone who both loves us, and wants us to love in return.
Our Creator is a loving Being, Someone to Whom love is exceptionally important. I know of no better explanation for why humans need love so urgently, why it is so beneficial to share it, and why it’s so destructive not to, than to say that “Elohiym is Love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
In a coherent universe, actions have consequences. The person who jumps out of a window, head-first onto the sidewalk, causes himself to face consequences, as does the university student who prefers intoxication over attending his classes. Our rebellion against what is right has also, undeniably, reaped consequences; our fallen world yields plenty of evidence of this fact. These are visible manifestations of this principle, but there are other consequences that are just as real.
Sin has a way of hardening our hearts over time (Hebrews 3:13; Hosea 4: 11). It brings a separation from a Holy Elohiym (Isaiah 59:2). And, ultimately, a life of sin will result in receiving judgment. Deep down, we all know that there are certain obligations we need to keep. We feel that inescapable conviction of the existence of a moral standard and, being obligated to do something naturally implies that there will be consequences for refusing to do it.
Further, if we can only bring ourselves to be honest, we must admit that we have fallen far short of fulfilling our obligations. Humanity has been involved in a long, stubborn war against a Holy Creator, and each of us has partaken of this. We may try to deny our part in it; as one verse says, “There is a generation that is pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” (Proverbs 30:12).
It is a great contradiction of our time that the average person believes he is better than the average person. But, when so many people think themselves to be so good in a world where so much evil abounds, somebody is lying.
What’s the matter with the human race is that it is in open rebellion against the One Who created it. There is selfishness and hypocrisy, there is grudging and bitterness, there is greed and dishonesty, adultery and fornication. People are routinely hurting each other and breaking each other’s hearts, and this is not even to mention all the other things we could list, things that go on daily that are horrible, even unspeakable.
Why do we need locks—sturdy locks—and safes, and written contracts? What makes us routinely take precautions to avoid danger? Why are we instinctively cautious about trusting people? I believe we have grown so accustomed to living with evil that we have become desensitized to how strange it is, how unnatural. When one begins to get close to Elohiym, one starts to see the reality of how far we have fallen. This experience has happened to everyone I know who has begun to have a real relationship with Elohiym.
Our race is not even close to fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. We were designed to be pure, holy and glorious; we were intended to have fellowship with Elohiym, and to dearly love each other. We were not created for the purpose of blasphemy, profanity or drunkenness. We were never meant to live unto ourselves, as is considered normal in our society, or to go about ignoring Elohiym or even denying His existence. Human beings have broken Elohiym’s laws. We are guilty.
The sum of all this is that humanity is on a course for destruction. Elohiym takes no pleasure in this at all, as He says Himself (Ezekiel 18:31, 32). It is rather a combination of the facts of existence in a coherent universe: that actions have consequences, that a moral law exists and that humans repeatedly transgress this law. There will be an ultimate, eternal distinction between good and evil, a just recompense to each person according to their works (Romans 2:5-91). It is sin that originally brought death into the world, and it is sin—breaking the law of Elohiym—that will result in an ultimate death, an eternal punishment.
This is not pleasant news, but it is reality. To deny it, we must hold either that no moral law exists (which leads to absurdities), that our actions do not bring consequences (which is incoherent), that humans are in fact living pure, holy lives for their Creator (which is nonsense), or that a holy, loving Elohiym doesn’t care about what we do to each other, and is indifferent about whether we follow or violate His law (which is rather implausible).
Earlier in this treatise, we saw that the facts of beauty and tragedy presented an apparent contradiction; one that I believe has been plausibly resolved. Likewise, the unmovable demands of true justice and the concept of Elohiym’s great love towards humanity present an apparent contradiction; and these are also reconcilable, in a most remarkable way.
The points which have been considered up to now—wonder, tragedy, the love of Elohiym, justice, and so forth—are things that, generally speaking, could be accepted by most monotheists of the world, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or other. It might be asked, then, why I hold so firmly and strictly to the concept of Elohiym spoken of in the Judeo-Christian scriptures (i.e. the Old and New Testaments).
My first response would be that, because love is so obviously important to our Maker, I can only conclude that Elohiym is the most loving Being of Whom we can conceive without compromising His holiness and justice. To believe otherwise would mean believing that humans could have come up with a concept of God more loving than Elohiym Himself—the ultimate Source of all true love. It would mean believing that some exceptionally compassionate yet deluded creations of Elohiym could manage to outdo their Creator in that which is the very center of His Nature. That seems to me to be more than a little absurd.
Therefore, I believe that the greatest divine love story is the true one. In other words, I will serve the God Who loves us the most. And that is what I find in the Biblical concept of Elohiym. Let me explain.
The message of the New Testament is called, in Greek, the Evangelion, which means ‘Good News’. It is also called the “word (message) of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, because it’s all about Elohiym’s efforts to get us reconciled to Himself again. Elohiym never was indifferent towards humanity; even our rebellion didn’t cause Him to abandon us. Instead, His response was to try to win our hearts back.
One way to have attempted this would have been to appear in the sky, like a dozen stacked Mt. Everest’s, and order us to return to our intended purposes. The problem, though, is that this wouldn’t produce a relationship, but rather a prison. We would have been literally forced to line up our actions with Elohiym’s will, and our hearts would have remained un-won. Or, our Maker could have publicly bribed us, offering us material wealth for obedience.
I suppose a lot more people would keep Elohiym’s ways more often if He were doling out a pound of gold per good deed. But our hearts would not be even one inch closer to being won. We would be showing affection for riches rather than for Elohiym. None of this is what Elohiym intended. He created us to have a relationship with, one in which we freely choose to love Elohiym, just as He loves us. This sort of relationship cannot be either coerced or bought.
So, Elohiym’s solution was to actually come in among us, as one of us, and personally seek to win our hearts back. The Logos, the Divine Word, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). Yeshua is called Emanuel, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:21-23). This is the best explanation for the two outstanding sets of facts about Yeshua: His material circumstances and His personal characteristics. Yeshua was neither a man of wealth nor of nobility. He was neither a military ruler nor a member of the religious establishment’s elite.
Elohiym, when He came to earth in the Person of Yeshua, was not trying to obtain a following by any kind of superficial means. He came, instead, as a poor man from rural Palestine on the far reaches of the Roman Empire. As for His personal characteristics, Yeshua was at the two extremes of human variation; wise, having keen insight, challenging us with bold, uncompromising truth—exactly what a deluded man never is—and yet claiming Divinity.
The common notion of Yeshua being merely a ‘teacher of good things’ is, in my view, an exercise in deliberately avoiding the issues. It doesn’t take into account the sorts of things Yeshua said about Himself. Imagine a pastor or rabbi telling his congregation, “I came down from Heaven” (John 6:38), and claiming that angels are His and that He sends them at His command (Mark 13:27); or, Who declares that He will one day call us out of our graves (John 5:28, 29), and that we will all stand before His throne on Judgment Day (Matthew 25:31-34); Who claims the authority to forgive sins (Luke 5:18-25), and to give eternal life (John 10:27, 28); and so forth.
No one who is merely a ‘good moral teacher’ would ever say such things about himself, and yet these are the types of claims Yeshua made continually. Indeed, this kind of authority is either stated, implied or assumed in most of what Yeshua says.
For instance, when a man announces publicly that he is meek and humble by nature, we disbelieve him, since those who are truly humble among men don’t seek to get attention for themselves this way. But when Yeshua says it, it seems natural to believe Him, because Elohiym can say that: “Come unto Me; I am meek and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11: 28, 29). He’s like a father speaking to his children.
A great man knows that he is not Elohiym; and, the greater he is, the better he knows it. A lunatic may think of himself as God; a fool or a con man may speak as if he is God. But Yeshua knows, with calm lucidity, that He is Elohiym. Therefore, we have a choice to make. Either Yeshua is a lunatic, a fool, a conniving deceiver, or Elohiym Who came in the flesh. To maintain that Yeshua was merely a ‘good moral teacher’ while disbelieving nearly everything that is central to His teachings, is irrational.
I can appreciate the concern of those who donate to help the starving poor in the slums of Calcutta. However, I spontaneously feel more respect for the individual who moves to the slums of Calcutta to live among those people and help them. The sacrifice strikes me as greater, more profound. In the same way, I can agree with other monotheists that Elohiym created the world, and that He hears and answers our prayers.
These are important, comforting concepts that we all hold in common in traditional monotheism. However, the concept of a Creator Who is willing to step into our tragedy and suffer with us, as one of us, this says quite a bit about the sort of Person Elohiym is, and about the depth of the love that He has for us.
The various aspects of Yeshua’s life were meant to communicate to us things about Elohiym’s nature. For instance, the manner in which He lived was meant to give us an example to follow, showing us what a pure life of service to Elohiym is supposed to be like (1 Peter 2: 21). He went about teaching and healing, showing us Elohiym’s compassion (Matthew 4: 23; 11: 4, 5). He cried with us (Luke 19:41; John 11:35), and He loved little children (Mark 9:36, 37; 10:13-16).
Even the manner by which Yeshua came into the world gives us a glimpse into His character—there’s certainly something poetic about the idea of Elohiym being born in a stable among animals, straw and manure (Luke 2: 1-12).
And after Yeshua had lived among us, teaching and healing and traveling and suffering among us, He stepped deeper still into the tragedy. He was betrayed by one of His own disciples, was abandoned by the rest of them, and was handed over to the authorities. He was tried and condemned on charges of blasphemy—claiming to be the Son of Elohiym—and was delivered to the Romans, who executed Him by the custom of crucifixion.
(Before reading further, I want to post a link to a sermon on the early Christian view of the atonement, known as the “Ransom” model: http://earlychurchtruth.com/englishsermon/theransom.html)
Isaiah chapter 53, written centuries before Yeshua came, refers to this event, speaking specifically of one who would suffer, and die, for our sins. As discussed earlier, each of us is guilty of rebellion against Elohiym, and the demands of justice require that we receive our due punishment. I cannot take punishment for anyone else, even if I wished to, because I already have my own to face; and, for the same reason, none of my friends or family, or any other fallen human, can take my punishment for me.
We are all guilty together, each of us. Only someone who is perfectly innocent—having no sin—and who can willingly offer himself for us (that is, someone who is neither tricked, nor forced, nor offered without consent) can take our punishment for us. Such a person would not be guilty, and so would not be worthy of death; and, therefore, such a person could pay the penalty of death in our place, if he so wished. And this is what Yeshua came to do for us, as Isaiah wrote so long ago: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Adonai hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
Do you know anyone who would, after careful deliberation, give his or her life for you? There are mothers who love their children that dearly, and some very devoted friends might. But anyone who gives their own life to save someone else is demonstrating a tremendous amount of love for that person. And this is precisely the message that Elohiym meant to convey to us through taking our punishment for us (Romans 5:6-8).
Yeshua said that laying down your life for your friend is the greatest love there is (John 15:13), and then He went to surrender His life for us (Galatians 2:20). This is, in any case, the claim of the Bible, the divine love story offered in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures: Elohiym came to earth in Person, to suffer with us in our tragedy, to cry with us and comfort us, to take our punishment for us by dying in our place, and to save us. In all the realm of monotheism, such claims have never been made for any other conception of our Creator. Yeshua is the Elohiym Who loves us most.
Of course, the story doesn’t merely end in tragedy. The Christian Hope of eternal life is based on what happened next: the Resurrection. Yeshua manifested His authority over death by rising from the dead three days later. The disciples testified of spending days, even weeks with Yeshua after His Resurrection—eating and drinking with Him, talking with Him, and even touching Yeshua and handling His wounds (John 20; Luke 24:36-48; Acts 1: 1-3, 10:38-42).
To those who reject the testimony of these first century disciples, I would ask if it is more plausible to believe that earnest and sincere Jewish men and women invented such a story in order to look forward to and receive persecutions, ostracism, beatings, imprisonment and gruesome deaths. I, myself, find it more plausible, rather, to believe that they were simply telling the truth. They saw Yeshua die, they buried Him and then they saw Him alive from the dead again.
The summary of all these thoughts answers well the five questions of Origins, Identity, Meaning, Morality and Destiny. Note how the answers connect to each other in an interrelated way:
The eternally good Elohiym, Who created Heaven and earth, made humans in His own image (Origins, Identity). Elohiym created us for the purpose of having a loving relationship with Him and, by that means, with each other (Origins, Meaning). These relationships consist largely of learning of Elohiym, and living out His holy ways (Meaning, Morality).
Humanity abused free will and rebelled against Elohiym; but, He came to earth, in the Person of Yeshua, to restore us and call us back to that relationship through His life, teachings, death and resurrection (the centerpiece that makes all of the rest of the message cohere). Those who partake of this proper relationship with Elohiym, and live out this holy love, will inherit eternal life, while those who reject Elohiym, living unto themselves, will receive eternal punishment (Meaning, Morality, Destiny).
This brief summary of the Gospel message concisely answers all five questions. At the same time, it gives us a framework for making sense of reality; in this view we understand both why the world contains so much beauty, and why history contains so much tragedy.
Through this message we also can comprehend human nature—as, for example, why humans and beasts, although sharing a number of biological similarities, are mentally and spiritually so greatly different. We can see why people from all around the world, and throughout our entire history, have felt a need to worship, to kneel and pray; why humans are capable of the most inspiring acts of compassion and yet, at the same time, why we are guilty of all of the world’s worst atrocities.
The Gospel gives a working definition for both good and evil, while also explaining why both good and evil exists. And, although it furnishes a sound basis for understanding so many profound and even paradoxical questions, the basic concepts of the Gospel are so simple that even young children can readily understand it.
Finally, it provides both Welcome and Wonder—the rational search for what is true, and the heartfelt longing for the wonder of a story come together in the Holy Scriptures, as a true story. Only Elohiym could have authored a message which meets the deepest needs of the human spirit.