For the week of May 19, 2007 / 2 Sivan 5767
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 1:1 - 4:20
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22 (English 1:10 - 2:20)
God's True Identity
"In that day," declares the LORD, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will no longer call me 'my master.' I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked." (Hosea 2:18,19; English: 2:16,17)
My family and I are fans of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, a series of well-known children's fantasy books. In these stories people from our world have adventures in a parallel world. Masterfully written, Lewis weaves spiritual insights throughout these books, some of which have helped me to better grasp certain biblical concepts.
However, there is one particular concept Lewis seems to espouse that I take exception to. It is found in the last of the series, entitled The Last Battle. This story pictures the transition from life as we know it, to the age to come. The allegiance of the various characters is basically split between the messianic figure Aslan and an evil god, named Tash. It is only those who have served Aslan who will inherit eternal life in the age to come.
As it turns out one individual who, as far as everyone knows, including himself, has served Tash his whole life, is welcomed into the new creation. The explanation given is that those who have served Tash with noble and good deeds were, without knowing it, actually serving Aslan, while those who, in Aslan's name, lived cruel lives were actually serving Tash.
If this is Lewis's understanding of who, in the end, is truly accepted by God, then it expresses one biblical truth, while missing the mark in another. Certainly throughout history there have been many who have abused the name of the true God for their own evil purposes. Some of these people have put on a good front and others have not. Lewis is right that those who do evil in God's name are actually standing against him. These people should not be surprised when they are rejected by God in the end.
But Lewis has erred in his assertion that allegiance to the true God will be judged solely on the basis of people's intensions, faithfulness and good deeds. Whether or not people clearly and openly profess faith in the true God is therefore irrelevant according to "The Last Battle."
God is more than a spiritual concept; he is an actual personal entity with whom we need to be in proper relationship. God's identity is revealed to us very specifically. He is the God of Abraham , Isaac and Jacob - the God who led his people out of slavery in Egypt. It was essential that his people learn to in no way confuse him with other gods. He knew that if they made that confusion, they would engage in all sorts of destructive behaviors and would break loyalty to him.
The fact is the people of Israel continually engaged in this very confusion. They regularly integrated the spirituality of the nations around them with their service to the true God.
This week's Haftarah is taken from the writings of the prophet Hosea. Through him God foretold of a time when this confusion would be no more. Baal was a popular false god in those days. Throughout Israelite history the people were drawn into Baal worship. Through the passage quoted above we see that the true God was being called by the name of "Baal." The reference to "my master" is actually "my Baal." To the people of that day, they were one and the same. The day would come, however, when this confusion would be broken for good.
God's true identity is found in who he really is and not simply through our intentions. Our acknowledgement of his true identity is an essential part of being in right relationship with him. While true faith is not just a matter of using correct religious labels, to disregard the way in which God has revealed himself is to disregard him.
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