We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
– Teilhard de Chardin
When the serpent comes to Eve and says, “Is it true what God said?” She says, “No. God actually said…” But from there it is all downhill. The serpent has her questioning. In the New International Version of the Bible, which I quote (loosely at times) throughout, it goes like this.
Genesis 3:1-3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
But if you go back and look, it is Adam who got the word from God, and there is nothing there about not touching.
Genesis 2:16-17 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
So when Eve looks at the fruit, it looks yummy! And perhaps she has something to gain: the knowledge of good and evil! And the serpent was right. That fruit looked good, like a good fruit should. When she touched it, she didn’t die! So why not try a bite?
And although she did not get (and we have neither inherited nor attained) a functional, practical knowledge of good and evil, she got something else (a bonus) in the bargain: the knowledge that she is naked, vulnerable. At that moment, she realized she was a creature, human, made of mud. She realized that she could disobey, avoid immediate consequences, dissemble, and would someday die.
For me, that realization sunk in when I was about four.
Let’s fast forward from Eve to about 3,400 years ago. That’s when Moses sees the burning bush that is not consumed by fire. It is likely just a wick for an oil well that has been struck by lightning; but he thinks to himself, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When he gets there, God speaks and tells him to take off his sandals. As they get into the conversation and God lays out his task of freeing the Israelites from Egypt, Moses gets up the courage to pose a hypothetical question.
Exodus 3: 13-14 Moses said, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Notice how Moses didn’t come right out and say, “God, what’s your name?!”
I understand a good Yiddish translation of I am who I am, is “Never-you-mind-what-I-am!” Or, as Popeye would say it, “I yam what I yam!”
Other translations are, “I AM THAT-WHICH I AM.” And (as my Student Bible says), “I will be what I will be. I will always be what I have always been… the divine name, YHWH, is connected with the Hebrew verb hayah, ‘to be’ ”. And as I understand it “I am foundational being.”
One verse from the famous opening invocation to Zeus by Aratus became even more famous because it was quoted in the New Testament (Acts 17:28) by Paul in Athens: “For ‘in him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ’For we too are his offspring.’” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Aratus-Greek-poet 10/30/2020
The opening of PHAENOMENA by ARATUS, TRANSLATED BY G. R. MAIR goes like this: From Zeus let us begin; we mortals never leave him unnamed; the streets and market-places are full of Zeus; full is the sea and the havens; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth [favorable] signs and [awakes] the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. https://www.theoi.com/Text/AratusPhaenomena.html 10/30/2020
I’ve also been told that the proper way to pronounce God’s name (as God told it to Moses) is a voiced inhalation (YAH…) and exhalation (WAY). When I learned this, I was dumbstruck.
When I see “YHWH,” I am reminded that the ancient Hebrews (so I am told) would not even spell out God’s whole name – they dropped the vowels. And the consonants are non-percussive. Saying God’s name does not require your tongue to touch your teeth or gums. And everything that breathes speaks God’s name in the same language.
Basically, it all comes back to God is a “being” verb.
But nothing sticks. Definitions, translations, and names don’t stick.
If Moses had then asked, “Can you create a rock so big that you can’t lift it?” or “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” the Israelites would still be in Egypt. God would have thought, “Well. This one doesn’t get it.”
I say, “No. God can’t create a rock so big that he can’t lift it. For every rock there is, God can create a bigger one. And God can lift all of them. Heck, he’s holding the sun, moon, and earth up. How much of a bigger rock do you need?”
As far as chickens and eggs go, I simply say the egg, so I accept Darwinian evolution as a settled fact. Also, I accept that God created the universe ex nihilo, everything out of nothing. So, getting a chicken to come out of an egg is nothing.
As far as, “What is God in relation to science?” I accept a God that fills in the logical gaps, which have been proven to exist in any “logical system” (like science) with Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. (See Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.) I accept God as First Cause and Source of Order. I accept God who sent Jesus to show us how to live. And I accept the Law of Entropy.
I’m okay with saying that God is not logical. I can’t explain God. I would even say my belief in God is not logical. It is like Kierkegaard’s leap of faith. Thomas Aquinas has five proofs of God’s existence. Although I’m a big fan of his, I’ve never had much faith in his proofs. I think God is that thing we can’t prove exists.
You might ask, “Can God draw a triangle with less than or more than 180 degrees?” Well, not in Euclidean Geometry, where parallel lines never cross. But there is non-Euclidean Geometry, where parallel lines do meet at points and the shortest distance between two points are curves, like earth, where parallel (longitudinal) lines meet at the poles.
I have heard it said, “The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but the nicest one is a curve.”
I’m just saying, you can construct logical systems based on which non-contradictory axioms you are willing to accept. But most of the time we don’t live in a logical world. We live in a world of deceivers, cloudy thinking, and partial understanding; we live in a world of flesh and blood.
In Luke 4, (about 2,000 years ago) when the Deceiver comes to Jesus in the Desert, after Jesus has fasted for forty-days (which is ancient Hebrew for a really-long-time) and he is hungry, the Deceiver says, “If you are the Messiah, turn this stone into bread.” Jesus said, “Homey don’t play dat.” Just kidding, he actually said, “It is written: ‘People shall not live by bread alone.’ ”
And that is enough to convince me
he is the Messiah right-there.
He does not need to be born of a virgin
or to be crucified, dead, and buried
and on the third day raised to Heaven
to sit at the right hand of the Father.
He just needs to know what to say to the Deceiver
when he is hungry, in the desert, and there is no one else around.
And yet, when the United States is presented with a stone and asked whether we will wean ourselves from fossil fuels or turn it into oil, we say “Drill, baby! Drill!” We frack it.
And we damn the consequences, ourselves, and our children.
Jesus’ answer comes from Deuteronomy 8:3, and it recalls the time, 3,400 years-ago, when the Israelites were in the dessert, eating manna. God humbled them by letting them hunger. God then miraculously fed them for years with a new food they did not understand to make them realize “that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of YHWH.” In other words, YHWH provided everything that the Israelites needed.
As Jesus was tempted to turn stone into bread, Esau was tempted by his twin-brother Jacob into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup. (Genesis 25:29-34 says that Esau took his birthright lightly, he despised it.) Since Jesus refuses to use his unearthly-power to fulfill his earthly needs, we can be sure that he respects his birthright. He will fulfill his calling. He will do what he was born to do.
Returning to Luke 4, Satan lays out all the kingdoms and riches of the world. He says, “These things are mine. And I give them to whomever I choose. Worship me, and I will put them in your control.” Jesus refuses saying, “Worship YHWH and YHWH only.”
I wonder if there is any truth in what the Deceiver says,
but how can there be?
It seems true that the kingdoms and riches and power
are the Deceiver’s.
But Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” And Jesus will later tell Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36]
But this is the bargain that we make in the secular world. A little power over these people and these things is granted to us, but we must still answer to our bosses and rulers. We wind up being driven by the question, “What is your bidding?” And we are haunted by the thought of our power and position being eroded or taken away.
We are in this world, but we don’t have to be of this world.
We can set our minds on ultimate and lasting things.
Jesus did not put himself in the position of borrowing power from someone or a system. He relied on God and built his power from the ground (from the stones) up. Thus, he becomes the Chief Cornerstone in the wall between church and state.
If ever a church and state were separate, it was in Jerusalem, 0-33 CE under Roman rule. Yet, “the factions (Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin) soon agreed” [as in James K. Polk by They Might Be Giants] that “this Jesus must die.” [as in Jesus Christ Superstar]
Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea, serving under Emperor Tiberius from 26/27 to 36/37 AD. He is best known today for being the official who presided over the trial of Jesus, ordered his crucifixion, and then washed his hands. Pilate’s importance in modern Christianity is underscored by his prominent place in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Due to the Gospels’ portrayal of Pilate as reluctant to execute Jesus, the Ethiopian Church believes that Pilate became a Christian and venerates him as a martyr and saint, a belief historically shared by the Coptic Church.
Herod Antipas was a 1st-century native Jew who ruled Galilee , with the approval and support of the Romans. He bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”) and is referred to as both “Herod the Tetrarch” and “King Herod” in the New Testament, although he never held the title of king. He is widely known today for accounts in the New Testament for his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. (Matthew 14:1–12)
Herod did not get along well with his family. He divorced his first wife and then married his brother’s wife. John the Baptist called Herod out on this, and that’s basically what led to his beheading.
The Sanhedrin (directly translated from Hebrew as “sitting together,” hence “assembly” or “council”) were assemblies of either twenty-three or one assembly called The Great Sanhedrin with seventy-one elders (also known as “rabbis”), appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient Land of Israel.
In Jesus’ time, the Sanhedrin was something like the Supreme Court for the Jews, but it did not have the power to hand out death sentences. Only Pilate, as Roman Governor, could do that.
According to John 19:3, Pilate ordered a sign saying “King of the Jews” to be placed on the cross above Jesus. The way I understand it, Jesus was tried for sedition and blasphemy, and he was convicted on both counts.
During the run-up to the 2016 election, I was comparing Trump to Hitler. And I was thinking that some people thought Hillary was the Anti-Christ.
And then I thought, that’s all wrong.
Neither one of them is perfect, far from it. Neither one of them is pure evil. And then I thought, Jesus, when offered the kingdoms of the world, refused to have anything to do with it. [John 4]
If Jesus didn’t want to be Roman Emperor, he surely would not run for President of the United States. Then I wondered, why? Wouldn’t that be the best way for him to establish heaven on earth?
Then I thought, politics, our idea of government by coercion must be wrong, flawed. It is a system of power, not a system of truth and grace. This insight was first brought to me by What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancy.
This does not absolve us from advocating for public policy based on our moral convictions. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to the vulnerable, the immigrant, the voiceless. We cannot wash our hands like Pilate. But we also must be careful if we find ourselves staking out the moral high ground; because very few of us have been to the burning bush, and none of us can choose the good all the time.
Thirdly and finally, Jesus is tempted to jump from the top of the temple, to leap from the peak of religious power and defy the Laws of Nature. The Deceiver is tricky with this temptation, quoting from the Psalms he said, “If you are the Son of God… [God’s angels] will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Why would you do that? To prove that you are the Son of God? Why would you play a losing game to prove a point to someone? If he jumped and flew, he couldn’t be fully-human. He wouldn’t know what it was like to be me. And he couldn’t be the Christ, the Messiah. I would never have any hope of following him.
Well, Caiaphas, the chief priest, will take that leap of faith. He will pass judgement on the Son of God just to prove that it is he (and he alone) at the head of the Jewish religious establishment. And Jesus will die, but Caiaphas will fall. Still, perhaps, Jesus did rescue him. I can’t deny Jesus that right, that ability, that Grace.
Jesus replied, “Do not put YHWH to the test.”
If you go back and look at Luke 4, where Jesus is tempted to prove that he is the Messiah, you will find that he used Deuteronomy (from the Old Testament) to answer the Deceiver’s questions. The second two answers come from Deuteronomy 6, and the first from chapter 8. Jesus had studied his scrolls.
The first temptation (turn this stone into bread) is about trusting God (not yourself) from moment to moment.
And the second establishes the division between church and state. After all, politics is a graceless system. It is a hopeless cause, doomed to exist only on this side of eternity. Jesus washed his hands of it.
The third is about not testing God. God is an axiom. God cannot be proven because God cannot be put to the test (scientific, logical or theological).
Jesus refused all the temptations that had tripped up those who had come before. He passed the test. For me, his example of what it means to be truly human is the best one to follow.