Do you believe in spiritual superheroes?


For the week of October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan 5775
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 6:9-11:32 & Bemidbar/Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24

Righteous Potential

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (Bereshit/Genesis 6:9)

Righteous Potential

The Torah refers to Noah as righteous and blameless. How can that be you may wonder? That Noah wasn't as bad as most - or even all - of his neighbors we can accept, but righteous, blameless? Is that possible? Isn't that's like saying, "Nobody's perfect; except Noah!"

Some traditions are okay with spiritual superheroes. This view of "sinners" and "saints" creates two categories of persons. First, there's the general population, so-called normal folk. We're the ones in mind in the saying, "Nobody's perfect." Then there are the exceptions - the Special Ones! These saints somehow possess a moral superiority that sets them apart from the rest of us. How they came to be this way, we don't know for sure, but we stare at them with a kind of awe - a little impressed, a bit of jealousy perhaps. We might applaud them for doing the good that we think we could never do even though we think we should.

While regarding someone like Noah as a spiritual superhero may make us a fan, he can never be an example. Separating people into saints and sinners in this way creates a chasm we cannot cross. It's almost as if these spiritual superheroes exist in a different dimension - a parallel universe - a different plain we normal ones cannot attain. We observe them and their activities. We may hear their words and at times appreciate what they have to say, but they don't really live in the normal world. Therefore we cannot be expected to be like them.

An alternative approach is to reject the Torah's description of Noah. The weird thing about this approach is that it is common among people who most adamantly claim to believe the Bible. Statements such as this that ascribe righteousness to humans get filtered out by a theology that denies that such a thing is valid. Doesn't the New Covenant absolutely state: "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). None is none, Noah included. Unless "none is righteous" doesn't include Noah, which takes us back to the saints-and-sinners dichotomy I described, making Noah a superhero and the rest of us morally and spiritually disconnected.

It's not as if Torah doesn't teach that we are morally and spiritually disconnected, or that "none is righteous" is not a legitimate general statement. Doesn't Solomon say in his prayer "for there is no one who does not sin" (1 Melachim/1 Kings 8:46), Noah included? But then how could Noah be called righteous and blameless? It's not that Noah was a different sort of person in and of himself. His spiritual and moral state was not based on a different kind of human nature, but rather it was derived from God.

Note that the passage I quoted at the beginning includes the words, "Noah walked with God." Noah lived his life in step with God, which is how the righteous have always lived. Being blameless is not a self-derived moral condition, but a relational one, whereby one's dependence upon God establishes a right relationship with him. Since this is not derived from human nature, but from God, genuine righteousness doesn't depend on us, but upon him.

This is why the New Covenant writings state: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Right relationship with God is not an achievement, reserved only for the spiritually superior (who don't actually exist), but a gift of God available to all of us normal people, if we put our trust in the Messiah.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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