when god decided to invent
everything he took one
breath bigger than a circustent
and everything began
when man determined to destroy
himself he picked the was
of shall and finding only why
smashed it into because
—E.E. CummingsWhat a Mess!
Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in," said Ricky in the Academy Award winning film, American Beauty. There is much truth in that statement, and yet there is so much despair in our world, so much that seems broken.
In some of the most beautiful cities, many people are hungry and homeless. In our most picturesque neighborhoods, crime is lurking. Places that once seemed safe, like our schools, are no longer protected.
A brokenness permeates the earth. In fact, this fissure stretches beyond our stratosphere to the farthest point in the most distant galaxy. From reports of mysterious black holes to meteors aimlessly wandering about the solar system to the breakdown of the atmosphere around the planets, we see things coming apart. We can put a man on the moon and a satellite into orbit, but we cannot catch a falling star or restore a dying planet. We find it difficult to even mend a shattered life.
Our entire universe is broken. Things are not working the way they should.Looking for Answers
Can what is wrong be made right? Economists and educators, philosophers and politicians have been attempting to solve our problems for centuries, but have made little headway on our behalf.
The lack of solutions has led many of us into a pessimistic mindset that maintains that there are no answers. Perhaps we don't believe that things can be any different; that anything can make us be what we ought to be, do what we ought to do, and discover what is most important to know. So we no longer view our lives as part of one great story with an ultimate purpose. Rather, we look at our own lives as our own individual stories. We don't want our personal narrative to encroach upon anyone else's, nor do we want our own stories to be altered by anyone else. Therefore, the possibility that there might be one theological explanation for the way things are, is something few are willing to consider.
Some people see the existence of God as an open-and-shut question. But what is truly open or shut is the mind of the person considering the matter. Some people have only childhood coloring book images of the Creator as a bearded old man on a throne in the clouds. They believe they outgrew him. Others say, "There are many ways to approach the concept of a higher power, but there is no right way." Still others say, "It's all right for you if you want to believe in him. But I don't need God." You just might be different. You just might be open to the possibility that there is a way for the universe to be fixed, even if it involves allowing for the idea that God may exist.God's Point of View
To seriously consider whether God may have answers to the problems of this universe, we must examine what he says. Where do we go to find God's words? For thousands of years, people have looked to the Scriptures to find the words of God.
But some people ask: "How can we know the Bible is true?" This is a fair question if the person asking it earnestly seeks the truth. The question is absurd otherwise. If you have an open mind and an open heart, then consider these tests:
Cohesion: Does the Bible stand together as a unit? Does it present a unified picture of reality? Many people who have studied the entire Bible have come away convinced that it does offer such a picture. Of course, you would have to read through the Bible for yourself to see if this is so.
Correspondence: Does the Bible correspond with what we know of the world historically, geographically and anthropologically? Nelson Glueck, in his book Rivers in the Desert, writes, "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference."1 For example, some scholars have concluded that the mention of camels in the book of Genesis is anachronistic. They insist that camels could not have been used that early. But mention of camels in other ancient texts, as well as findings of camel bones and camel figurines, confirm the truth of the biblical record.2
Fulfillment of biblical prophecy is more evidence of the Bible's correspondence. A striking example comes from chapter 26 of the book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Scriptures. This chapter contains a detailed prediction of the future of the city of Tyre, a prediction given around 590 B.C. Ezekiel said many nations would war against Tyre and the city would be destroyed. He foresaw the locale of Tyre as a bare rock from which fishermen would cast their nets into the sea.
Some 18 years later, King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Tyre, chasing its citizens away. Two centuries later, Alexander the Great leveled the original Tyre, using the rubble to build a causeway in the sea. The modern city of Tyre is at a different location. The original site of the city is a bare rock used only by fishermen who spread their nets in the sea.
Even with overwhelming historical evidence and record of fulfilled prophecy, some people question the trustworthiness of the Bible because so much time has elapsed since it was written. They ask, "Haven't the copies been corrupted through the centuries? How can the Bible you get at the local bookstore be anything like the original?" Yet consider documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose authenticity has been proven numerous times.
Pragmatism: Does living by the Bible actually work? Some people live their lives by the Bible. This does not mean, as is often assumed, that they live "nicely," following the Golden Rule or obeying the Ten Commandments. Instead, they have a value system where God's expectations are most important. When people make God's priorities their own, their lives can be transformed.
In finding reconciliation with God, individuals can find reconciliation with one another. Broken marriages can be restored. Broken lines of communication between children and parents can be mended. People who have read the Bible with an open mind and heart have found that it is like no other book. Not only is it true, but it also works.
The Bible can and does change people's lives. The Bible can be tested against history, human nature and the conditions of the postmodern world—maybe even against yourself.
The Scriptures explicitly discuss a concept called "sin." It is socially unacceptable, politically incorrect and professionally suicidal to introduce this subject. Even the word "sin" conjures images that are generally distorted. When we think of sinners, we think of serial killers or child molesters.
It is only when we catch a glimpse of the brightness of God that we see the true meaning of sin. Isaiah was the most articulate prophet of his time. He called a nation to atone for sin, but when he entered the Temple and saw the Lord "high and lifted up," his reaction to this vision was not one of rejoicing, but of great contrition: "Woe is me for I am shattered—undone. For I am a man of unclean lips…"3
Don't miss the significance of this. Isaiah was a prophet, and his lips were his instruments of service to God. Yet when he caught a glimpse of a holy God, he was able to see that what was most perfected in himself—his words—was by comparison unclean.
If we allow for the possibility that God exists, he must be perfect and holy or else he would not be worthy of our worship. If we catch a glimpse of God, all that we esteem within ourselves becomes worthless. The result of this awareness should be our repentance.
Maybe you are someone who believes in God's standards, but you also imagine that God grades on a curve. Perhaps your response to sin is, "No one's perfect." Well, that's true, but have you noticed it's not only God's standards you don't reach, but your own? We claim to believe in kindness, yet which one of us is always kind? We say we want fairness, yet which one of us is always just? In truth, we don't always attain our own standards, let alone God's.
The Bible describes sin in various ways. It calls it a disease, a rebellion and a failure to reach a goal.4 Sin can also be described as going astray or missing the way. Most definitions emphasize the willful aspect of sin, but in this metaphor, sin is portrayed as an error. It is the result of negligence or inadvertence, yet is an act for which the perpetrator is still held accountable.5
Sin produces guilt.6 Sometimes we feel guilty over things that we know are wrong. Sometimes we don't. Why is that? Is it because sin has become something that we accept as normal? Generally, we take for granted that "we are the way we are." But to admit that God has moral standards means that when we violate them, we are guilty, whether or not we feel that we are.
If you are reading this, you probably suspect that you are not the way you can and should be. God agrees with you. Moreover, God has also shown us the way to be different. Some people approach sin as an obstacle they can overcome. They claim that humans are ever evolving into a higher type of being with a greater sense of morality, but history and current events seem to contradict this notion.
It's apparent that we need help from a power source other than ourselves. When we hear that sin separates us from God, very few of us wonder how we can be reconciled. Some are satisfied with unanswered questions and unsolved problems. But others seek confident answers, concrete solutions and a connection to their Creator. Are you one of these people who wants answers? If so, then you need to be willing to ask the most important question in the whole universe.How Can I Be Connected With God?
Our sin separates us from God, but God has offered us a way out of our spiritual predicament. He sent Y'shua (Jesus) the Messiah to make things right by dying for our sins.
The ancient prophets described the Messiah's coming, even the details such as his place of birth. Yet Y'shua went virtually unrecognized, for he did not present himself as a conquering king. Rather, he entered this world the same way that everyone else enters—by emerging from the womb of his mother. He looked like any other baby. He probably behaved like any other child—but he was different!
He was so much more than a child, than a mere man, than an angel. John, one of his Jewish followers, said, "In the beginning was the Word [Y'shua] and the Word was with God and the Word was God."7
This concept is enormously difficult for the human mind to grasp. Why should the transcendent God, who is all and above all and created all, lower himself to take on human form? John gives the answer: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son."8
The coming of Y'shua Ha Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah, was an act of love. Through his birth, the focus of the entire universe was on one planet, one time in history, one child.
This one who came, looking so ordinary, was actually as different from us as God is from his creation. Y'shua set aside the divine power to experience life as a vulnerable man—but not the kind of person we are. His image was not marred by sin; rather, his soul reflected the radiance of the Creator.
Yet, mysteriously, the people who were around when he walked the earth were not particularly drawn to that light. They did not see it because, like all of us, they were more comfortable looking within themselves for light.
But to the few who caught the glimmer of Y'shua's light, he gave the right to connect with God as children are connected to their father. He did this for all people, including the Jewish people to whom he was born.9
Y'shua was called the son of God—but not because he was less than God. His existence did not begin subsequent to the one whom he called Abba, Father. Rather, he was called the Son of God because, among the ancient Hebrews, the son was the vicar, the protector, the holder of the estate, the divider of the inheritance among the other descendants.
In the same sense that the patriarch Jacob was no less than his father Isaac, so the son of God is no less than his father, the Creator God. They share the same substance, the same essence. From eternity they have been one and have operated as one.
But, for a time, God became one of us.
He who was beyond history, entered history at a point of time and became part of the people he loved so much. When God became human, he didn't just "act" like a man. When Y'shua said that he was hungry, he was hungry. He needed food. When he said he was tired, he truly needed rest. When he laughed, he was actually having a good time!
His appearance was such that no one would have regarded him as handsome or striking. If we were transported to ancient Judea, we probably could not have picked him out from a crowd. His clothes were ordinary. His manner and language were the same as the other Judeans'. But his teachings set him apartthey were remarkable.
While the rabbis taught the people how to observe the law, embellishing the precedents that had been taught by previous rabbis, Y'shua quoted the Law of Moses where it taught such fundamental principles as "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Then he took the people a step further. According to Y'shua, not only were we not to commit murder; we were not to allow ourselves to be angry with another person without cause. Not only were we not to commit adultery; we weren't to allow ourselves to lust.
Y'shua spoke with more authority than all the rabbis of all times combined. No rabbi would dare require what Y'shua required. They knew that ordinary mortals, including themselves, could not keep the Law of Moses. But Y'shua not only told the people what they were required to do, he gave them the power to do it.
His power was not merely the power of a charismatic teacher. He seemed to be able to tap into the healing power of the universe!
Sometimes his miraculous acts were profound. Things that had seldom or never been witnessed before happened—the dead restored to the living, the sea calmed, lepers healed.
At other times, his miraculous power was seen accomplishing simple things such as providing more wine at a wedding so that the bridal party might avoid the humiliation of running out of wine. Another time, he provided lunch for a crowd of five thousand. What is most remarkable is that in all his power, he loved people.
Y'shua could enjoy simple pleasures, but he could also stop a storm. He could be angry, but he was angry for the right reasons—the desecration of the Temple, the uncared—for poor, the unfed, the neglected widows. In his anger, people saw how God feels about those who do not meet his standards.
At the same time, in his compassionate care for all of the weary and disheartened of the world, for all the lonely and loathsome of society, people saw God's love for his creation. Y'shua's power did not come merely through his birth or through his words or through his works—it came through the new birth, through a change that occurs in our hearts. It was now possible for a human to reflect the character of Jesus and the glory of God. Before, a person could perform a holy act; now it was possible to be a holy person.The Repair of the World
You might understand that in Y'shua we see God. But you might not comprehend what it means to say, "Y'shua died for our sins." There is a Jewish background to this expression.
The Jewish artist Marc Chagall once painted Abraham offering Isaac on an altar. He based the work on Genesis 22, which is read in the synagogue on the High Holy Days. In this story God calls out to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
Abraham obeys, places his son on the altar, and raises the knife to slay him, when suddenly the angel of the Lord cries out, "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
In his painting, Chagall portrays Abraham holding the knife high over his head, ready to slay his only son. In the top right-hand corner of the painting, the artist includes a scene of the crucifixion of Y'shua. Red paint connects that scene with the body of Isaac, stretched out on an altar shaped like a cross.
Obviously Chagall saw an intimate connection between the Old and New Testaments—a father sacrificing his only son. Similar to Abraham's story in Genesis, John wrote in his Gospel account:
"For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
In place of Isaac, God provided a ram as a sacrifice. Why a sacrifice at all? Why did an innocent animal have to suffer and die? The animal, acting as a substitute, suffered the death deserved by the one who offered it to God.
In business, corporations often ask their shareholders to choose an officer to be their substitute or proxy for the annual meeting. Similarly, in biblical days the sacrificial animals were God's appointed proxies to stand in a person's place and receive the due death sentence.
Of course, eventually even the most faithful worshippers died a natural death. But when they had offered sacrifices in faith, not merely as a ritual, they had a proper relationship with God and the promise of eternal life.
God never promised that physical death would be abolished in this world, but he did promise a resurrection from physical death. Y'shua's death was no accident of history. It was God's deliberate design to provide a basis for his forgiveness.
The prophet Isaiah foresaw this. He described a servant of God who would suffer and die for sin in a way that would exceed the suffering and death experienced by sacrificial animals.
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5,6)
The New Testament records this about the death of Y'shua:
"But we see [Y'shua], who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone." (Hebrews 2:9)What Does This Mean for Us?
Life itself is a gratuity. We are not born because we deserved it. We cannot earn the right to be born. That we exist at all—and this is true even of people in dire circumstances—is a gift of God's love and grace.
With that physical life comes a yearning for an indefinable "something else." A longing wells up within us, a waiting, a sense that something should be that is not; that something should happen that has not yet happened; that something must be revealed that we cannot yet see.
We yearn to be touched as we have never been touched, and we long to embrace something beyond what we have ever embraced. There's a feeling of safety in that impulse that speaks of our need. If you have ever felt it, in that moment you have desired God.Faith, Hope and Love
There is a diminishing amount of goodness, love, faith and beauty on this planet. And while the need for a global solution is apparent, our individual sin is what separates us from our God. Sin is the universal problem that has a universal solution. But it involves an individual choice.
Do you need the Creator's love? A hope that will fill in the missing piece in the puzzle of your life? This recognition is the beginning of faith.
Faith is seeking something outside of yourself that will touch your spirit as you have never been touched, bring love as you have never been loved and spark hope for an existence beyond your human ability to hope.
Faith, hope and love do not just happen, they come about as the result of a decision. Faith is opening yourself to the truth without judging what you will allow to be true. Love is giving yourself to another, irrespective of how they respond. Hope is deciding to trust; specifically to trust God and what he has revealed to humanity.
Have you ever said of a believing friend, "I wish I had their faith"? Maybe you meant that you wanted the spiritual peace which that individual seemed to have, but you were holding out on making a commitment to God because you still had a lot of questions.
If that is where you stand right now, there is good news for you: Faith is not the absence of questions but the presence of trust in the midst of unanswered questions!
We don't fall into faith. Faith is trust. A relationship of faith with God is one of trust in God. All of us have broken trust with God by not living up to his standards. In this way, even our actions against people are actions against God. We need to restore the all-important divine relationship in order to repair our relationships with others. It takes just a little faith to make the commitment to God in Y'shua that will give you new birth and a new life.
Imagine a person who is in obvious physical discomfort. You suggest that they call a doctor, but they only say, "I'm fine! I don't need a doctor!" Not until they are in an extreme situation do they finally put the call through, only to discover that indeed their need was real, tragically real—for the doctor says, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you have cancer. And I'm afraid that you only have a few weeks to live."
God has diagnosed our illness (sin) and prescribed the cure (Y'shua). How long will you wait to accept it?
—adapted from the essay by Moishe RosenFootnotes
1. Glueck, Nelson, Rivers in the Desert, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p. 31
2. Kitchen, K.A., Ancient Orient and Old Testament (InterVarsity Press, 1966), pp. 79-80
3. Isaiah 6
4. This is the idea of the Hebrew word chattat in Exodus 32:30 ("The next day Moses said to the people, 'You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.'") and chet in Psalm 51:9 [Heb. 11] ("Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.") It is a falling short of expectations, goals, and duties.
5. This is the idea behind the Hebrew verb shagag of Leviticus 4:13 ("If the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though the community is unaware of the matter, they are guilty.")
6. This is one of the ideas behind the Hebrew avon of 1 Kings 17:18 ("She said to Elijah, 'What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?'") The word sometimes has overtones of bending, twisting, or perverting a standard. Guilt is the major consequence of avon.
7. John 1:1
8. John 3:16
9. John 1:11
All Scripture quoted, unless otherwise noted, is from the New King James version of the Bible. Cover poem from 100 Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings (New York: Grove Press, 1958)