I believe this is so important that I am interrupting the daily word in order to send it.
It doesn’t happen often, but when one of my faithful readers and long-time supporters asks to be removed from the community, I want to know why. Yesterday I heard from a friend and reader in Ohio. He said, “I remember one time you said that Rosanne told you that she can’t read your writings anymore because she doesn’t understand them. I guess in a way I am feeling like she was feeling.” He went on the say that the emphasis on the Hebrew background behind the Greek text and all of this etymological concentration makes him feel as if he will never really understand the New Testament. He is distraught because:
- The more he reads, the more distance he feels from the God he wants desperately to serve. He worries that he doesn’t have the right name, the right birthday, the right festivals and maybe not even the right church.
- The more he reads, the more complicated his faith becomes. He used to have a God who spoke compassionately to him. Now he longs for that immediate simplicity but it seems to be evaporating.
- The more he reads, the more commandments and lifestyle changes he discovers and this makes him feel as if he will never be good enough for God. He worries that the standard is just too high and to different to give him the personal connection he wants with his Lord.
With a broken heart, he said, “I see a God that came for the simple and the uneducated. I see a God who came to the simple, the broken and the uneducated and used them to spread love and His word to the whole world. I don’t see this in the community. In the community I see the educated and enlightened feeling sympathy for those who are not in the “know”. I see people who are more worried if someone knows that Jesus’ real name wasn’t Jesus, it was Yeshua, and that God is really G_d, then I see people who are broken by revealed truth and called into action to humble themselves and serve. I see people who understand the Hebrew derivative for a Greek/English participle of a non-delineated sentence, not people who understand the hurt of a 13 year old who almost died from alcohol poisoning and his eighty-one year old Grandmother telling me that she was in the ambulance saying, “This is not happening. My boy is not going to die, is he? Are we weeping over a nation in love with child sacrifice, as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and its blindness?”
When one of our own feels this way, I am quite sure he is not the only one.
Let me try to respond.
I also worry about the potential swing toward intellectualism. I try to balance this with the constant theme of righteous acts. But I can certainly see the tendency. On one hand, I am not surprised. We are at a loss when it comes to understanding the Hebrew way of life in the Bible, principally because we didn’t grow up Jewish. This is culture shock! It’s like being dropped into the center of a village in rural China. We lose out bearings. The language is different. The food is different. The topography is different. No wonder we feel as if the ground has been torn out from under us. After all, the Christian culture has been a part of the home of the West for 1800 years. Re-examining its foundations strains everything about the world we thought we knew. So, when we start to see little glimpses of the real biblical world, it’s pretty easy to grab those slices and talk as if we have a better understanding than others. Of course, that isn’t Hebrew either. Knowledge always leads to action, and in this case, the actions model the heart of God. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, delight and hope should be the natural results of a deeper understanding of Scripture. In Hebrew, you really don’t know until you do! Intellectual correctness doesn’t mean anything unless we have malleable hearts listening to the Spirit.
For many who comment on the blog, it is important to be correct about names, words and theological constructs. There is no denying the fact that if you were on the Mount of Olives and asked to speak to “Jesus,” no one would know who you were talking about. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t see His Son’s name written on your heart, no matter what comes out of your mouth. It’s important to return to the real Hebrew expressions, but it’s not so important that it puts walls between believers. Unity comes first. We are one family. When my children call me “Dad” instead of “Skip,” I know they are still talking to me.
I know that radical cultural shifts cause alarm, discomfort and anxiety. Just trying to eat a kosher diet has already created some raised eyebrows among my friends. Recognizing the pagan background of Christmas is like dismantling a sacred cow. So, the best way forward for me is often the “just live it” way. Just take the bacon off the cheeseburger. Just enjoy the gift giving at Christmas. I don’t make a big deal out of any of it until someone asks. But, of course, I have to write about this stuff everyday, so it’s a bit more upfront than the way I try to handle living with it. My job is to prod a little, encourage a lot and try to dig as deep as I can. But that isn’t everyone’s job. Some of us, some of my closest friends, still have to sit with the grandmother who worries about her grandson’s life. And I need to provide as much as I can for those friends. They are on the other firing line.
More than anything, I want to encourage all of us to stick with exploration with a deep spirit of humility and sensitivity. Some of us are much further along, but the goal is to get there together. Stronger brothers dial it back in order to bring along weaker brothers. As you can see, Paul (Sha’ul) faced the same issues. The clash of cultures can knock people right out of the picture and that would be the greatest tragedy.
I have encouraged all in the community to add to the blog. The intellectuals among us don’t seem to need much encouragement. They are in the flow when they are thinking about all this. But we need to hear often from those who are right in the midst of this shift. We need to hear from the hearts as well as the minds because my friend who asked to be removed isn’t the only one who is struggling with all this.