Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Marlin Vis Has Truth. Listen In

Finding what we seek ...

“Everyone finds in the Bible exactly what he/she seeks,” Professor Isaiah M. Gafni, Hebrew University (The Challenge of Hellenism). “Furthermore, we often read back into the text that which was never intended, not even in the original writing.”

Professor Gafni does not intend this declaration to be damning, but rather a statement of what is, in fact, fact! Gafni painfully points out that the case for an afterlife, for example, does not become a Hebrew, and therefore a Jewish theological concept, until after the influence of Hellenism (Greek culture). Then, he says, Jewish thinkers revisited Hebrew texts to find support for that which they now believed to be so – i.e. life after death.

He does not say that this means there is no life after death, no heaven or hell, but rather that the belief in such came later in the collective religious life of Jews, and as the direct result of Hellenistic influence.

“Everyone finds in the Bible exactly what he/she seeks.”

Mike Huckabee just returned from a visit to Israel/Palestine. He proclaimed, with just the right touch of sobriety, that the land belongs to the Jewish people, and therefore the Palestinian people ought to do the right thing and leave. And if they do not leave then the Jewish people ought to be given liberty to do whatever is necessary to get them out. I have no idea how far he would take this, but I get the feeling that “no holds barred” would be pretty close. Of course, all this in a spirit of Christian love, albeit, tough love, because Pastor/Governor/Talk Show Host/President Wanabe Huckabee is, after all, a decent, loving Christian man.

And for his proof, he goes, of course, to the Bible. But to what part of the Bible? He turns to the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. He quotes from several of the hundreds of texts that proclaim this to be fact: God gave the land to the Jewish people, therefore the land belongs to them, both back in the then, and in the now, and in fact, in the forever – the land belongs to the Jewish people.

And who can argue with this, right? Anyone who dares is immediately assailed as someone who does not take the Bible seriously, because the case of Jewish ownership of the land is too obvious to dispute.

So the Palestinians are toast!

And, sadly, so are we.


I mean, if we are going to read the Bible as a book that was written to determine ownership of land, and borders for ethnic groups, and this for all time, then eventually, we’re all doomed. We’re all potentially victims of the reading back into scripture by whomever has the power to follow through on whatever it is they wanted to find there.

“Everyone finds in the Bible exactly what he/she seeks.” The truth in this statement would be even more frightening then it is except for the fact that not everyone has to power to follow through on whatever it is they find as they seek.


Apartheid in South Africa was supported by the Dutch Boers because their Reformed theologians found in the Bible exactly what they sought. Slavery in America was as well. “Everyone finds in the Bible exactly what he/she seeks.” For centuries Jewish people were persecuted, oppressed and even murdered, on the pretext of truth sought and found in the Bible – New Testament texts that were interpreted to blame the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus.

“Jews killed Christ!” The Bible says so, right? Wrong! The Bible does not say this, not at the deepest level of what the Bible has to say about the death of Christ. The Empire of Rome killed Jesus just as empires like Rome have killed rebels like Jesus for centuries before and for all these centuries to follow. Corrupt, misled, and frightened leaders of religion contributed to the execution of Jesus, just as corrupt, misled and frightened leaders of religion have killed their prophets before and kill them still.

And when we allow innocent people to suffer because of a shallow reading of the Word of God, then, over and over again, we continue to kill God-in-the-flesh-and-blood of Jesus. We kill truth. We kill justice. We kill Jesus! And this done by good and decent people like you and me, and yes, Mike Huckabee too.

Every square inch of the Universe belongs to the God who created every square inch of the Universe, and this God did this creative God-thing with great joy in, and with great hope for, a Universe where justice and righteousness would kiss. This Sovereign God owns every square inch of the Universe that this God created, even the air we breathe, along with that air that we cannot breathe, because this air leads through some black hole to a place only God knows where. No one people, and no one person owns any of this created space that God created out of God’s own creative self. God owns it all. And thanks be to God, who being as generous as God is creative, allows us to live on this land that God fashioned, and to breath this air that originally came from God’s own breathing.

And how shall we live? With awe-filled awareness that none of this belongs to us, not one square inch of it! We live by grace. How shall we live? With justice and righteousness for the widow, the orphan and the stranger! Why? Because we are all one phone call away from being any one of these three! How shall we live? In love and peace with our neighbors, even, and even especially, with those who are enemies with us! Why? Because tomorrow or next year or ten years from today, these same enemies will be discovered to be people not so different from us, and will be our friends, and we will be wondering why we wasted all this time and all this energy hating them and killing them and raging against them. How shall we live? As Jesus lived, boldly and bravely and honestly, and die like Jesus died too because death is a part of life, so we die like Jesus died, with forgiveness on his lips, and reconciliation in his mind, and if we are wise as Jesus was wise then we will do this before we die!

HOW SHALL WE LIVE? We shall live in the Word of God, with respect to what God intended, and with the constant reminder ringing in our ears and reverberating in our minds, that some of what was said there was meant only for then and there, and not necessarily for now and forever.

How shall we live? Humbly trying to discern what was for then and there, and what is for now. And then, with fear and trembling, we determine what is forever. And somehow, God helping, we do this together! And I submit to you, that the primary focus of the Bible is not to determine who owns what, but rather, to declare that nobody owns anything. It is all of grace. And for that grace we are to be grateful. Thank you very much Heidelberg!

Do Jewish people have a right to live in the land of their ancestors? Of course! But Palestinians have the same right, and the right they have comes from the same Word! The responsibility of people like Mike Huckabee, and you and me, is not to travel to this land and glibly determine who has the right to live where, but rather to humbly and submissively come along side both people and encourage them to live humbly, gratefully, and justly with one another. This is the Word’s word on how we all should live, both then and there, and now and forever.

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