For the week of November 1, 2008 / 3 Heshvan 5769
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5
Beyond Personal Spirituality
And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch." (Bereshit / Genesis 6:13,14; ESV)
There is something about the biblical understanding of life that I think many of us just don't get. In general, spirituality or religion tends to be thought of within areas such as philosophy, belief, personal enhancement, and self-realization. Benefits include motivation, self-esteem, hope, peace, happiness, and so on. Many religions include a moral component, which for many is all about the adoption of a particular lifestyle in order to successfully achieve the kind of personal spirituality I just described. While the Bible's understanding of life includes personal spirituality, it is much more than that. In fact it may be correct to say that the personal aspects of the Bible's view of life is much more of a minor thing than we realize.
When I was first introduced to biblical faith it was all about its benefits to me. I was told that if I would ask God to forgive my sins and believe in Yeshua's death and resurrection, then I would be happy for the rest of my life and live forever in heaven. This means that the result of my getting in touch with God and his cosmic purposes through the centuries, culminating in the Messiah's fulfillment of Jewish expectation was my personal emotional well-being and personal eternal security. While coming to know God that day has indeed made an extreme difference to me personally, is this really the essence of the biblical view of life? Is the whole plan and purpose of God really all about personal benefits and personal experience?
It can't be if the story of Noah is a reflection of God's truth. The story of Noah is a story of tragedy and hope. God was so grieved over the perversion of human behavior that he decided to destroy the whole world. Among all the people on earth only Noah was found to be right with God. While it was human evil that led to the destruction of all life on earth, it was through one man's right standing with God that life as we know it was preserved. God told Noah to build an ark, a large boat-like structure, to house his family and representatives of every kind of animal in order to repopulate and replenish the earth following the devastating flood.
It is difficult for us to perceive the magnitude of this project, including the years of hard physical labor and the organizational challenge of gathering and caring for all those animals. Noah and his family's involvement had its personal benefits, but that was secondary to the responsibility of the furthering of both the human race and the animal world. They worked extremely hard for very many years on what must have seemed to be the most ridiculous thing anyone had ever seen to date.
This was Noah's life. This was what it meant for him to truly know God. Would prayer have been a part of this? Probably. Did his personal relationship with God make a difference in his fulfilling his task? Absolutely. Did his understanding of God help him persevere amidst the ridicule and godless living of his neighbors? Certainly. But was his personal relationship with God what his life was all about? Of course not! The reality of God for Noah, for his family, for all the people living at that time, and for the animals affected every aspect of life.
But isn't Noah a spiritual lesson like all the other lessons of the Bible? Are not the Bible stories designed in such a way so that we could draw spiritual lessons for our personal lives? Perhaps to some extent, but if that is all we do, then we miss the fullness of these stories. What we have in the Bible are examples of real people facing real-life situations from the perspective of genuine encounters with the God of the Universe. Through the Bible we learn to relate to life in the way God designed. Whether it is heeding the warning of judgment that results from perverse living of the kind in Noah's day or the call to make a difference in the world as Noah did, we need to see that knowing God is not just about the personal benefits to you and me. It is about willingly accepting our God-given place within his overall plan and purpose for our day and in preparation for eternity.
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