For the week of September 19, 2009 / 1 Tishri 5770
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 21:1-34 &
Bemidbar / Numbers 29:1-6
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 1:1 - 2:10
Connecting with God's Reality
There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. (1 Samuel 2:2; ESV)
God gets a lot of attention. We hear about him all the time from the mouths of believers and non-believers alike. He is adored, he is scorned, he is exalted, he is mocked. Though many try, he cannot be ignored. I don't think there is a being or concept in all human experience upon which so much effort has been spent trying to disprove his existence. As for those who choose not to ignore him, how to relate to him has been far from straightforward. Millions of people claim some sort of belief in God, but the differences between their versions of him are so great that many curious seekers are turned off, thinking it impossible to come to any definite understanding. It doesn't have to be this way though.
To some the Bible is just another book of superstitions and myths - one of a multitude of human attempts to define spiritual reality. That it claims to reveal the one true God is taken to be no different from all the other so-called sacred texts in existence. Yet there is something about how God is presented in the Bible that sets it apart from everything else. The Bible doesn't try to convince us to accept a God who is distant and unknowable. On the contrary it invites us to know God, to encounter his reality for ourselves.
This week's Haftarah is special for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. It was likely chosen to parallel the special holiday Torah reading that speaks of the miraculous birth of Abraham and Sarah's son, Isaac. The Haftarah speaks of another special birth, that of the prophet to be, Samuel. In both cases the mothers to be could not conceive. In the case of Samuel's mother, Hannah, she was desperate for a child - a desperation she took to God. We might miss how profound her request was. She performed no complex ritual nor did she pronounce some elaborate incantation. Rather from an honest, but hurting heart she cried out to the invisible creator God, who, if he made the universe, and if he gave Sarah a child in her old age, certainly could make a barren woman pregnant. And he did.
When Hannah fulfilled her promise to God by dedicating Samuel to his service, she broke out in an exuberant song through which she proclaimed her understanding of God. What makes her song special is that it emerged from a reality that until that time was just hypothetical. It's not that she didn't know God before. Obviously she did or else she would have not prayed as she did. But God's provision of a son was confirmation of what she already believed, thus allowing her to walk in God's reality at a much deeper level.
God doesn't expect us to only know him at a theoretical level. That which we know about him in theory is meant to be responded to. His reality is meant to be proven through lives willing to take him at his word. We may not be desperate like Hannah was, but as we earnestly pursue him, we will find him. Hannah is just one example of people just like us, whom God is inviting to experience his reality.
At this the beginning of another year, we have an opportunity to see if our understanding of God is one simply of theory or a proven reality. The Bible claims that God desires to be real in our lives. We are not expected to pretend, get hyped up, or be content in our confusion and emptiness. There is a reality beyond our wildest dreams waiting for us to take hold of if we are willing to let it take hold of us.
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