Dear Thoughtful Pastor: Why don’t people like the Jews? Certainly in recent history (say the last 1,500 years) they have been persecuted more than any other group from what I can recall. Could it be the Jews set themselves up as an easily dehumanized target and the rest of the world took advantage? It is, of course, always easier to tear somebody down than to build yourself up.
Dislike of the Jews started long before 500 of the Common Era (CE). As early as 230 CE the normally gentle theologian Origen of Alexandria wrote that the Jews “have committed the most abominable of crimes” in conspiring against Christ, and for that reason “the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election.”
It went downhill from there ultimately culminating in a substantial amount of Christian cooperation with the Nazis. Since the revelation of Holocaust horrors, many Christians rethought their positions and now recognize the strong connection between Judaism and Christianity.
Persecution, however, started long before the Christian era.
The Romans and the Jews had a particularly problematic relationship. Probably most nations do have problematic relationships with conquering powers that impose heavy taxes. In this case two issues escalated the conflict. First, Roman Emperors were worshipped as gods. Second, they installed statues of themselves in places of worship.
The Jews operated out of the Levitical code of strict monotheism (one God only) and the command not to make any images of God.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
As long as their conquered nations paid their taxes and complied with general Roman rule (like honoring the Emperor as a god) they would be left alone. While other cultures might simply integrate foreign gods, the Jews could not and still maintain religious integrity and cultural cohesiveness.
So Rome came down hard on them, ultimately destroying the Temple, the center of Jewish worship, around 70 CE.
Jews today operate from centuries of religious practice, theology and customs, some sticking to ancient traditions nearly unchanged, some adapting to modernism along the way. Family connections and a solid work ethic have often brought much economic success, even in the midst of difficult and oppositional forces.
Perhaps envy, the most destructive of sins, that has engendered so much of the persecution.
All of the so-called seven deadly sins, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride, ultimately hurt us and others around us. But of that list, envy is the most other-directed and seems the most likely to bring others down in order to ease the never-ending gnawing hunger of the green-eyed monster.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: What is Heaven?
Imagine for a moment a world with no goodness in it. A world where the above mentioned Seven Deadly Sins, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride, rule the land.
Distrust disrupts all relationships. Everyone sets out to cheat everyone else. Altruistic acts are immediately suspect. Nothing “good” can be done without ulterior motive of personal gain.
Self-taking lust always trumps self-giving love.
Work produces only dust and decay. Anything new breaks immediately.
Advantage gained by one person inevitably leads to loss on the part of another. With a zero sum economy, people only briefly collaborate to bring down the successful then quickly end the collaboration. The inevitable mistrust produces endless quarrels and factions.
That is the definition of hell.
Now, imagine a world characterized by the seven great virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.
With patience and charity, people work to right the wrongs of society.
Lust, which takes without asking, no longer rules. Faithfulness and kindness direct relationships with covenant partners.
Temperance seasons the pleasures of life. Unrestrained gluttony no longer swallows those pleasures untasted.
Creativity abounds; the work of our hands brings deep satisfaction.
Add to this Jesus’ words as he prepares his followers for his death: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, th
e only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
“Knowing God,” offers restored intimacy with the loving Creator, the Cosmic Lover, which then fills our souls with joy that spills over to all around us.
My definition of heaven: the fullness of goodness all around us.
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[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, November 6, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]