Archives for posts with tag: forgiveness

In Matthew 26:52, Jesus made a statement that has become famous: “Put your sword in it’s place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The statement was made to Peter who had drawn his sword in order to defend Jesus from being captured and crucified. The saying of Jesus is often paraphrased as “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” What it means, of course, is that people who conquer through violence ultimately end up dying by violence. Or to put it more simply: what goes around comes around. Live a peaceful life towards others and they will generally be peaceful to you.

As with essentially all of Jesus’ teachings, stories from the Old Testament teach similar themes. In the case of “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” Genesis 31 gives us a vivid example of how this principle works through the story of Jacob and Laban. Prior to chapter 31, Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and then tricked his elderly father into blessing him rather than his elder brother. Jacob then left the promised land to obtain a wife from his uncle Laban’s family. Laban ultimately lied and tricked Jacob into serving him for many extra years to obtain the wife Laban originally promised him. Jacob, in turn, cheated Laban out of the strongest lambs from his flock after they had reached an agreement. Ultimately, Jacob flees Laban and Laban and his tribe pursue Jacob.

From this story we can see what Jesus later taught explicitly: “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” If our life consists of lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, and fighting with others, then we can expect the same in return. If we wish to hold everyone accountable “an eye for an eye,” then we can expect the same from them. But God provides us with a different option. At the end of chapter 31, we see that although division and fighting and separation are part of our human existence, we can overcome these tendencies. At the end of chapter 31, Jacob and Laban reach a truce, an agreement to stop the cycle of violence.

And ultimately, stopping the cycle of violence and creating a new cycle of forgiveness and mercy is what Jesus offered us. Rather than fighting back against his captors, he tells Peter to put away the sword. Instead of cursing his persecutors he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even if our life has been full of deception, division, and fighting with others, we have an opportunity to follow the example of Jacob and Laban in Genesis 31:43-55, and “put away the sword.” We have the ability, like Jesus, to begin a different cycle: one based on mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

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The most insightful book I have read about the Old Testament is “Land and Covenant” by V. Rev. Paul Nadim Tarazi.  I wrote a book review about this book for The WORD Magazine (begins pg. 24 – http://www.antiochian.org/sites/antiochian.org/files/nov._2010_word.pdf).  Besides showing how well the Old Testament and New Testament work together, the book clarified for me the role of Israel in the Old Testament and helped show how God, according to Scripture, has cared for all people and all nations from the beginning.  What I share here is some insight I learned primarily from reading “Land and Covenant.”

When we think of the Old Testament we generally think about the history of Israel–God’s dealings with them and care for them.  This is not surprising since most of the Bible focuses in on the descendants of Abraham, and more specifically the descendants of Jacob (who was re-named Israel).  However, we should give great importance to the fact that the Bible does not begin with the “story of Israel,” but rather with the “story of all humanity.”  In other words, the Bible does not begin with Abraham, it begins with Adam.  And from Adam, through Noah, all peoples are born.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis do not deal specifically with Israel.  They deal with all humanity.  And the much larger story of Israel will unfold the way the summarized story of all humanity unfolded: with the people constantly disobeying God and in need of forgiveness and salvation.  This introduction to the entire Bible is essential because an introduction to any book sets the tone and audience for the book.  So although most of the Old Testament will focus on the story of Israel, the first 11 chapters show us that the story is in the much wider context of all humanity.  In other words, this story is not for Israel alone, but for all people and all nations.  Israel is simply an example.  Any nation would have behaved as they behaved–in fact, they did in Genesis 1-11.

That God is concerned with all of humanity is not seen in Genesis 1-11 alone.  Even after the Bible focuses in on Abraham and the chosen ones after him, God shows He still is the God of all people.  For example, God shows his concern for both Ishmael and Esau later in Genesis, even though it is not through them that the blessing given to Abraham continues.  Moreover, in the prophetic literature, there are numerous references to God reconciling the divisions between Jew and Gentile when the Messiah comes and in the heavenly Jerusalem. Certainly, the New Testament takes off from there with Jesus and His apostles opening up the table of fellowship to the Gentile outsiders so there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile.

Again, although the Old Testament will focus in on Abraham and Jacob’s descendants, the first 11 chapters set both the tone and the audience for the book.  God’s dealings with Israel are an example for all of us.  The instruction in the Old Testament is meant for everyone because God cares for all humanity.

 

As a Yankees fan, the season (and perhaps career) ending injury of Mariano Rivera has been tough news today.  For those who are not aware, Mariano Rivera is one of the all-time great baseball players and a New York Yankee.  He is one of the best pitchers in the history of the game.  Indications were Mariano would retire after this season.  He has always been considered a class act as a human being and player, never being connected with any sort of controversy or immorality.  He has been as consistent over the past twenty years as any player in any sport, and last was on the disabled list for an injury 9 years ago.

Mariano is respected by his teammates and opponents alike.  He is known as a generous, Christian family man.  Given his history, everyone familiar with him hoped he would finish with yet another strong season, a fitting tribute to a good human being and superb athlete.  No one would have dreamed his career might end in the outfield of Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during batting practice while he was shagging fly balls and twisted his knee (tearing his ACL).

One of my initial thoughts about this situation was the sadness he surely feels.  I also thought about the injustice of the situation.  An apparently good, honest, upright man who worked hard and was respected by everyone goes out in such a tragic way.  Granted, Mariano has millions of dollars to help comfort him–don’t get me wrong–but for me the deeper issue from a Christian perspective is the lack of justice in this situation. 

I think most people consider justice to be a good and noble thing.  However, true justice simply does not exist in this world.  Furthermore, I would argue, it has little place in Christianity.

St Isaac the Syrian once said (I’m paraphrasing) God is not just.  For where is the justice in the only sinless one dying for the sins of others?   Now, this is not to say God is unjust, but rather that God exceeds justice (emphasizing a higher virtue of mercy and compassion).  The reality is, through God’s grace, we have the possibility of not “getting what we deserve.”  We have the possibility of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.  Moreover, those in this world who suffer injustices are promised to be recompensed in the afterlife.  This is the gist of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  It is also reflected in the Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel: “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich has He sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).

As Christians, we should spend much less time and energy thinking about “justice.”  There is no justice in this world.  Instead, in this world, we should focus on showing love, mercy, and compassion.  These are the highest gifts, the greatest virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).  “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13, see also Matthew 12:7).

While discussing Genesis 3, people tend to focus on the sin of Adam and Eve, their breaking of God’s commandment to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Obviously, this sin of partaking from the tree is extremely important, but the story of Genesis 3 reveals problems much deeper than simple disobedience.  Let’s take a look at the story and see the three problems highlighted by the text.

Eve listens to the cunning serpent and eats of the forbidden tree.  She then gives some of the fruit to Adam, who also consumes it, violating the direct commandment given to him by God.  This is the first problem: Adam has disobeyed God’s commandment.

If we were unfamiliar with the biblical story and listened only to popular talk of Genesis 3, we would be inclined to think God came down from heaven and struck Adam and Eve with curses and death.  But this is not the biblical story.  Rather, immediately after Adam and Eve sin, we hear of a very gentle God: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (vs. 8).  God comes to check up on Adam and Eve, giving them an opportunity to come clean, acknowledge their sin, and ask forgiveness.  But Adam and Eve have a different plan: they hide from God.  This is the second problem: Adam and Eve do not confess their sin, choosing to run from God.

God, of course, finds Adam and Eve hiding in the garden.  Again, rather than immediately striking them, God presents them with an opportunity to acknowledge their sin.  This time, rather than admitting wrongdoing and asking God to forgive him, Adam blames Eve.  Eve, in turn, blames the serpent.  Neither Adam nor Eve takes responsibility for disobeying God’s commandment, preferring to make excuses for sin.  This is the third problem.

In the story of Genesis 3, we have a classic example of “three strikes and you’re out.”  Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God’s command to refrain from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Strike one.  After committing this sin, Adam and Eve did not come forward to confess their sin and ask forgiveness, but hid from God.  Strike two.  When God finally confronts Adam and Eve directly, they both make an excuse, blaming someone else for their own sin.  Strike three.  Notice, only after strike three does God issue curses (which, essentially, make the blessings he had already given more difficult to achieve).

The story of Genesis 3 should have serious implications for how we live our lives.  Yes, it is bad to sin, but we compound our problems and the break in our relationship with God when we do not come forward to confess our sin and take full responsibility for our actions and inactions.  A close reading of Genesis 3 shows God is practically begging us to confess our sins and to be accountable, so He may forgive us.