In Celebration of Biblical Narrative: A Biblical Critique of Jordan B. Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson lecturing in Toronto

Jordan B. Peterson presenting the first of his series on “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories,” May 16, 2018, Toronto, Canada

How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! (Psalm 92:5)

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Jordan Peterson & the Bible

You may have heard of Jordan Peterson, the Canadian university professor and psychologist, who first caught the public’s attention by posting a series of YouTube videos on why he would not submit to government-imposed compelled speech. Then a few months ago his extraordinary interview on British television with Channel 4’s Cathie Newman went viral. The occasion was the promotion of his latest book, “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” what has been #1 or thereabouts on Amazon for some time.

One of the most unusual things about Peterson’s teaching is his love for the Bible in spite of his own uncertainties about God. Last year he did a twelve-part public lecture series in Toronto called, “The Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories,” where he endeavored to analyze several stories from the Book of Genesis within a strict psychological framework. His appreciation for Scripture isn’t isolated to talking about Bible stories. Biblical references are strewn throughout his “12 Rules” book.

We must keep in mind that Peterson doesn’t come to the Bible as a believer in its divine authorship. While not discounting the reality of a spiritual or mystical dynamic to Scripture, he treats the Bible as the product of higher consciousness, the result of billions of years of evolution. For him, that the Bible stories are no more than a fruit of human achievement doesn’t take away how incredibly profound they are. He continually marvels at the biblical narrative, saying such things as “this is something really worth thinking about for a very long time!” As someone who is driven by a desire to (in his words) “get to the bottom of things,” he proposes that in one case at least, the story of Cain and Abel, this may be a story with no bottom, in other words: infinitely profound.

Peterson’s awe of the Bible is refreshing, especially in a day when the mainstream regards it as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst. It helps that he apparently tries to approach Scripture at face value without being burdened by theological and religious interests. He has no need to fit this or that into his own or anyone else’s theological or ideological systems, freeing him to fully ponder and to expound. He does have a particular perspective, however, which I will discuss below.

Peterson has certainly given us something to think about with regard to the depths of Scripture. The tendency among so many true believers is to overly simplify the Bible, as if the goal of God’s written Word is to make it as easy to understand as possible. There’s also the popular misconception that every passage only has one meaning. While it is appropriate to encourage people not to run wild with the text – a common occurrence throughout history, we cannot and should not diminish its depth.

Since the Bible’s origins are in God, should we not assume that its depth of meaning would be virtually infinite? Not that it can mean anything we want it to, but what it does mean is of such a complexity that we may never fully plunge its depths. I am not implying that it’s inappropriate to simplify it for children, for example. Part of the Bible’s ingenious complexity is that it can be engaged at every level of intelligence by every culture. Just because a child can appreciate a great classical symphony or novel doesn’t mean that such great works don’t also contain overly complex meaning to mine for generations. If scholars and others can wax eloquent over a Beethoven symphony, a Shakespearean play, or a da Vinci painting, how much more the divinely inspired written Word of God!

Peterson through an authentic biblical lens

Peterson’s apparent lack of theological bias doesn’t mean he doesn’t bring a particular perspective to Scripture. Apart from his evolutionary presuppositions, he views the unusual profundity of the Bible through the teaching of the highly influential psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Peterson understands many of the Bible stories in terms of “archetypes.” In generic, non-Jungian, terms, an archetype is a most basic, original, or best example of something. While the Jungian understanding of archetype includes the generic meaning, for Jung (and Peterson), archetypes are an expression of collective human consciousness. This is how they account for similarities found in ancient stories, biblical or otherwise. It is why certain themes in literature and film resonate so strongly across time and cultures. So, according to this way of thinking, at its core, the origin of archetypical stories emerged out of human imagination. As Peterson explains in his biblical lecture series, he understands God himself as a projection of human imagination. That doesn’t lead Peterson (at least in his own estimation) to diminish the concept of God or the benefits of belief. Yet combining a Jungian perspective with his passion for the Bible is potentially a dangerous path. Hereon in I will use prototype to refer to the generic, non-Jungian understanding of archetype to avoid associating it with the Jungian version.

Instead of accepting the Bible’s assertion that human beings are the creation of God, Peterson’s god finds his origin in human consciousness. This is where his take on Scripture collapses. On one hand, Peterson demonstrates a level of respect for the Bible that puts many believers to shame. But he doesn’t, at least at this time as far as I know, accept what the Bible actually says about the God who is at the center of the very stories he is enraptured with. On one hand, he is wonderfully overwhelmed that humans could have reached such a level of consciousness to come up with such profound stories, yet this necessarily implies that these same people were totally off base in their understanding of God, the Bible’s most central character.

Moreover, the Bible also clearly views its own origins as being inspired by God (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Peterson would have to say that they either knew their claiming of divine inspiration wasn’t true or they were mistaken. If the former, then the Bible lacks integrity. If the latter, so much for higher consciousness!

Claiming that the stories are the result of highly developed imagination means they are made up. However, the Bible doesn’t present its narrative sections as expressions of imagination. Most of the most profound scriptural narratives, including describing the supernatural, are presented as occurring within normal everyday life. The Bible, for the most part, lacks the normal literary clues of fiction. So again, we face the integrity issue. Can we highly value a collection of writing that presents fiction as fact?

Is it reasonable to conclude that stories such as these could be the result of imagination? I am continually struck by how truth is stranger than fiction. The most unusual, interesting, encouraging, troubling, profound stories are the ones that really happened. Key to the belief in archetypical stories is that they reflect reality extremely accurately, not only as a record of fact, but due their impact on minds and hearts. That’s why great fiction draws upon classical themes. Attempts at fiction which are not rooted in reality and truth tend not to endure. Therefore, is it not more reasonable to assume that the power of the Bible’s stories is rooted in their actually happening instead of being fanciful projections of the mind?

The Bible’s inspiration is not solely found in its recording of actual events, but in how it presents its contents. The Bible doesn’t simply tell us what happened, it also provides insight into God’s involvement. For example, we are not only told that God created people, but that we are made in his image. We don’t just read about wild disasters endured by the Egyptians, but that they were initiated by God as an expression of love for his people. King Saul didn’t just slip into dysfunction, God gave him over to evil spirits because of his arrogance and insubordination. Yeshua didn’t just die an unjust death. He gave himself for our sins. That there were other interpretations of these events at the time is likely. God’s interpretation is what the Bible is all about.

A most profound book

Yet, in spite of Peterson’s Jungian misunderstandings, he is still correct about the profound nature of Scripture. Years ago, I knew someone who was enamored with the stars to the point that he knew all their names. He was an atheist, and yet gazing at the stars filled him with not only awe and wonder but appreciation as well. That he had no one to whom to express that appreciation didn’t prevent him from such a sensation. His rejecting the stars’ divine origin didn’t prevent him from regarding them as profound. Astronomy is worthy of human investment whether or not God is explicitly acknowledged. I assert that knowing the Creator puts that sphere of study on its best footing and increases the potential for understanding. Still, as God’s creation, they themselves are worthy of awe. A person needn’t know the painter of a great painting to appreciate it. It’s the same with the Bible. What makes Peterson so unique is that he hasn’t given into the prevailing political correct view of this book, which has provided the foundation for what’s good in Western Civilization. He is able to appreciate it on a great many levels regardless of its origin.

If Peterson is in awe of the Bible, how much more should we who accept its divine origins be in awe? That these narratives reveal God shouldn’t lead us to acknowledge that and nothing more. It’s not as if giving him credit for the Bible’s creation is its only objective. That God is at the core of Scripture should lead us further into its depths, not keep us in superficiality.

God chose Scriptural narrative as his fundamental teaching tool. That’s why there is more to learn from a very brief Bible story than volumes of abstract explanations. We learn about the value of marriage from Adam’s reaction to seeing Eve for the first time. We are confronted with the loneliness and challenge of being faithful to God through Noah building an ark for years and years. We are encouraged that we can be useful at any stage of life by God’s call of an elderly, childless man to be a blessing to the entire world. We are invited into grappling with life’s utter confusion when that same man is directed to sacrifice his miracle son. We learn about the pain of character transformation through Jacob’s wrestling with God. We are given the gift of how to be free from the trap of bitterness through Joseph’s forgiving his murderous brothers. We discover that God can use us in spite or great wrong by his choosing of Moses. We are exposed to the reality of becoming a leader the hard way through David’s hiding from jealous Saul. I am not saying that these are the only things that can be gleaned from these stories. We can pick any of these or others and make long lists of additional helpful insights, not to mention that each item on these lists may be further expounded virtually forever.

The Messiah: fulfillment & illumination

A word about how the Messiah functions within the Scriptural narrative: Yeshua’s unique role is often misdirected to eclipse, rather than illumine, the rest of the Bible. While it is right to emphasize his person and work as “fulfilling” the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Covenant’s sense of fulfillment doesn’t mean “to finish off something” or “to put an end to something.” Rather it means “to bring it to the full,” thus providing all sorts of color and texture to the older stories that were not as clear before. Far from diminishing and devaluing the Old Testament stories, Messiah’s coming allows us to delve even deeper into the Bible’s depths. Not only does Yeshua brings fuller meaning to Scripture, under the New Covenant we are also offered the gift of the Holy Spirit, freely given to believers both as God’s agent of Scriptural illumination and the one who enables us to live out the Scriptures effectively.

Yeshua is the Bible’s central prototypical character. The way he embodies the Hebrew Scriptures is uncanny. This leads some scholars to deem the earlier writings as unnecessary. But that misses the point. Instead, Yeshua’s unique character gives greater meaning and integrity to the grand narrative. Is it not reasonable that when the God who revealed Scripture, embodies himself that even the smallest detail of his written revelation would be found in him? The ways Yeshua incorporates the Scripture should send us back to these stories over and over again to discover more and more of the treasures of knowledge and wisdom they contain.

Delving into the Bible’s depths

The Bible is indeed full of prototypical stories. What Paul writes regarding Israel’s wilderness wanderings is true for all scriptural narrative: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). These stories are not simple moral tales or allegorical pictures of otherwise lofty spiritual principles. There is something about these real-world events that reflect the truth of God and life in a way no other stories can. Other stories may or may not echo biblical truth, but the authentic prototype for those truths is only to be found in the Bible. And that these stories really happened to real people just like us in real places and times invites us to not only engage these stories but share in similar experiences today.

What prevents us from being in a state of rapturous awe worthy of the Bible’s divinely inspired depth? I have already mentioned the tendency to overly simplify or be limited by strict theological categories. The former keeps us superficial. The latter blinds us from unfamiliar and unexpected insights. In addition, misunderstanding the grand narrative of the Bible undermines the richness of its overarching story. Neglecting its story reduces it to a collection of disconnected moralistic principles. Spiritualizing Israel, for example, skews the concrete aspects of Scripture into overly interpretive abstract concepts. This all results in a theological and philosophical commentary overlaid upon the pages of Scripture, thus fooling us into thinking we are reading the Bible when we are actually rehashing our preconceived ideas. What can be more boring than that!

But the Bible isn’t boring. If we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by its depths as we grapple with how to live godly lives in these difficult times, we will discover fresh heavenly nourishment each and every day. And most importantly, unlike the great classic works, the Bible’s author is alive and available for consultation. Therefore, we needn’t be intimidated by the challenge of delving into Scriptures’ depths. God will be our guide.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

An Ontario Physician’s Concern about Marijuana

On January 22, 2018, Canada’s public broadcaster (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) on their program “The Current” with host Anna Maria Tremonti featured an interview with Dr. Brian Hart, an Ontario family physician who has significant concerns about marijuana, especially for young people under age twenty-five.

Here is the audio excerpt:

And the transcript:

AMT: You’re listening to The Current on CBC Radio One and Sirius XM. I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. Last week on The Current we looked into the coming legalization of recreational marijuana, and the concerns about its safety and contamination. Medical marijuana users have reported concerns. And I spoke with Dan Clarke who tests medical marijuana at A&L laboratories in London, Ontario.

SOUNDCLIP

DAN CLARKE: It is a concern. We talk about medical cannabis. It is a pharmaceutical that needs to be regulated and make sure the industry is providing a very safe product to the client.

AMT: Well the discussion generated a lot of interest from listeners, including from Dr. Brian Hart, who said contamination is not the only thing people should be concerned about. He wrote to us in part: “I am a family physician and deal with the side effects of marijuana in my practice every day. Believe me, they’re serious—but not due to pesticides—rather the drug! Marijuana is NOT benign. When an 18-year-old comes into my clinic with anxiety and a 35-pound weight loss, I put my pen down and ask how much he’s smoking. I have yet to be wrong.” Dr. Brian Hart practices in Gananoque, Ontario. That’s where we’ve reached him now. Hello.

DR. BRIAN HART: Good morning Anna Maria. Thanks for including me in the conversation.

AMT: First of all, how often do you get requests for prescriptions for medical marijuana?

DR. BRIAN HART: I would say probably, increasing frequency, but probably two to three times per week.

AMT: And what do your patients want it for?

DR. BRIAN HART: I would say there are two types of patients. A lot of patients that come in are already using it. Some of them may have cannabis use disorder. Some of them may be looking to switch from a drug that they don’t want to be on like alcohol over to marijuana. And these would be inappropriate referrals. The other type of patient are the patients that actually have really serious medical issues. Those that have essential tremor that we haven’t been able to control. People that have M.S. fatigue. People that have the indications that traditionally medical marijuana has been indicated for.

AMT: And do you not prescribe it at all then? Even in a case like that.

DR. BRIAN HART: Well it’s really difficult in that—so usually when medications come to market they come to market with a proven efficacy. There are studies that are done that show that it work. And we know that it works in a certain percentage of people. And we know what to expect in terms of short-term side effects. With medical marijuana it’s come to market and then we’re trying to find what it works for. And we really don’t have the appropriate studies to show the short and certainly not the long-term side effects. But in people that have exhausted everything else, so people that come in with severe essential tremor or with multiple sclerosis related spasms, I have no trouble referring them along to be counselled and receive medical marijuana as long as they go into it eyes open. But it is a third or fourth line intervention. It’s not a first line.

AMT: And where do you send them?

DR. BRIAN HART: Well in Kingston there’s three or four different marijuana referral centres. And I think these folks have doctors and they do interviews and then they’ll prescribe it. So when you say I don’t prescribe it, so my brother is a lawyer and he says there’s a term have done or cause to have done, and I know that if I refer them they will 100 percent of the time receive the medication and receive the drug.

AMT: And is that a problem in your mind that if they’re referred to some other clinic they’ll get it automatically or usually.

DR. BRIAN HART: Yeah, you interviewed Rosy Mondin last week and you wondered why pesticides that shouldn’t be in the marijuana were there, and she referred to it as a bit of the Wild West. And when it first started I saw everybody that went was given medical marijuana. And we do know with medical marijuana there are some absolute contraindications. For example anyone under 25 should not receive medical marijuana. Anyone with a marijuana use disorder should not be prescribed marijuana. Anybody with significant anxiety or an untreated psychiatric illness should not receive medical marijuana. And I have seen numerous cases where these people have been given the drug without much follow up or supervision.

AMT: And this goes back to your first point which is that normally if a drug comes on the market it’s been clinically tested. We know a lot more about it and we’re going by anecdotal now.

DR. BRIAN HART: Oh absolutely. And please don’t get me wrong. I go to work every day trying to help my patients. And the issue is if marijuana is proven to be a benefit I’m going to be the first one to prescribe it. And if we’ve run out of everything else and there’s a hint that it may be a benefit I will help my patients receive it. But the trouble is I do radio interviews, I guess what once every 53 years, so I Googled performance anxiety. And if you actually look at Health Canada, medical marijuana one of the indications is performance anxiety. And if you actually look at this study, 23 people were given synthetic THC before doing a simulated performance and 95 percent reported that they felt better about the performance afterwards. That’s not a study. That’s hearsay. I would argue that if I had put a little scotch in my coffee this morning I might feel a little less nervous right now.

AMT: You sound just fine Brian Hart [laughs].

DR. BRIAN HART: [Laughs].

AMT: But I want to ask you about that because you also said you wouldn’t prescribe to someone under the age of 25. Why not?

DR. BRIAN HART: I think you may have had articles on before, but the brain is under construction really until age 25 and the younger you are the more harm marijuana can do. And it can be permanent. And I see it in my clinic. My real concern is that this is an epidemic among high school students and I often see young man in particular coming in and they’re suffering from tremendous anxiety and weight loss and anorexia. And this was a bit of a learning curve for me. I mean remember back in the 80s if anyone bought marijuan, the next stop was the grocery store for Doritos. You would expect weight gain and apathy. But you’re experiencing significant anxiety and weight loss. The issue is that under 25 these folks are most susceptible to that. And there is some evidence that it can decrease long term IQ and have permanent bad effects.

AMT: You raise many questions that we in the media need to follow up on. Thank you for your letter to us and for speaking to me today.

DR. BRIAN HART: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

AMT: Bye bye. That is Dr. Brian Hart. He’s a family physician in Gananoque, Ontario. That’s our program for today.

Unsolicited Input

I'm always here for you. Indoor shot of warm-hearted young African American man showing compassion to unrecognizable male, patting him on shoulder while trying to comfort and reassure his best friendMany years ago, I was taking a course in Jewish studies at Concordia University in Montreal. Near the end of the term, we had a social. At some point one of the female students, an Israeli, whispered in my ear: “Your pants are open,” which translated means that the zipper of my trousers was down. Was I embarrassed? For sure. Was I grateful? Absolutely. What was most embarrassing for me at the time was not that this woman would inform me of my personal clothing mismanagement, but that others in the room may have already observed it. But would I have rather continued to remain unaware of the truth of the situation? No. Given the opportunity to resolve the situation (which I did as discretely as possible), while momentarily uncomfortable, was far better than possibly discovering the truth on my own later on.

Yet there seems to be a life value controlling most people that would prevent them from ever doing what my fellow student did that day. I can’t say with certainty what that is. Is it the value of personal autonomy? Do people think they lack the right to enter into what they might perceive as others’ personal bubbles? Do they think they are obeying an invisible “No trespassing” sign?

The lady Robin and I encountered in Manhattan last September didn’t see one. We had just arrived and were looking for a place for breakfast, standing outside one particular diner, reading their menu posted on their window. A complete stranger came up from behind us and started telling us why we shouldn’t eat there, referring to her cholesterol research. She then led us down the street to another restaurant before continuing on her way. We’ll likely never learn all the facts behind that situation, but we were delighted by her unsolicited input. We didn’t have to listen, but we’re glad she cared enough to speak up.

One of our favorite stories in this vein has to do with how our daughter Tikvah got her name. Before she was born, we decided that if the baby were a boy, his name would be Asher (from Hebrew, meaning blessed or happy). My wife, Robin, had seen in a baby name book that the feminine derivative is Asheyra. We liked the sound of that, and a friend who knew Hebrew said it was appropriate. When she was born, we announced her name to our friends and family. Everyone reacted positively, except for one Israeli-Canadian couple, who were very concerned about our choice of name. “You can’t call her that!” they said. “It sounds too much like the ancient fertility god Asherah. She could never go to Israel with a name like that.”

Why didn’t we think of that? So we switched her name to another of our favorites: Tikvah, meaning “hope.” Only God knew at the time how fitting that would be for her.

We were curious as to why no one else had said anything, especially since so many of our friends were biblically literate. Yet when Robin mentioned the switch to one such person they said that they had been similarly concerned. “So why didn’t you say anything,” Robin asked. “It’s your baby,” they said.

What does her being our baby have to do with the fact that we were attempting to inappropriately brand her? It’s one thing when we are oblivious to what’s going on; it’s another to think we lack the right, the permission, the responsibility, or whatever it is to speak into other people’s lives for their betterment.

We didn’t have to switch her name, but how arrogant it would have been to think: “How dare they tell us what we can’t name our baby!” They called us because they cared. But motive aside, they were right, and we did the right thing by listening.

The fact is our lives are dependent on the input of others. It’s often other people who see our needs far better than we can see them ourselves. Our hesitation to give input robs people of the betterment that God desires to provide to others through us. Certainly we might be the ones robbing ourselves when we don’t listen to helpful comments. And of course, some people are busybodies and meddlers, getting involved in the affairs of others when they shouldn’t. But it seems to me that in most, if not all, of the circles in which we currently live, the greatest problem is the hesitation to speak up, not giving others the opportunity to make needed adjustments in their lives.

You might be surprised to learn that the section of Yeshua’s teaching, Matthew 7:1-6, beginning with the oft quoted words,” Judge not, that you be not judged,” is more about speaking up than not. Here Yeshua calls people hypocrites who point out problems in others’ lives all the while having the same problems to a much greater extent themselves. He clearly criticizes those who attempt to take specks out of other people’s eyes, when they themselves have logs in their own eyes.

However, it was not Yeshua’s intent to shame these hypocrites into silence. Rather, he goes on: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” In other words, when we think we see issues in others, we need to examine ourselves and deal with our issues first. Then, we are in a position to address issues in other people. By using the “speck in the eye” metaphor, Yeshua implies that when we speak into other people’s lives, we should do so gently and carefully. Note that to leave specks in their eyes is to give them over to a much worse eye condition. Love demands we gently remove specks as we see them.

I am aware that not everyone wants their weaknesses pointed out. Or what I perceive to be an issue may not be one to someone else. That’s why we need to ask ourselves the question, what’s the benefit in sharing? The final statement Yeshua makes in Matthew 7:1-6 is “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” When we know our input will be violently rebuffed, it might be better to not say anything. But this is a cautionary note to a culture that errs on the side of speaking inappropriately, not the situation in which we find ourselves today, where most of the time we keep too much needed information to ourselves.

The Lord’s teaching here assumes a societal default setting of speaking into others’ lives. I know that this tends to be a cultural thing. Some people need to take care to listen more and heed Yeshua’s instruction on how to patiently and gently relate to others. But we are not to just be quiet and keep all our opinions to ourselves, no matter what the prevailing culture expects. Because that’s not what the Lord expects.

Yeshua called his followers to be teachers of the nations (Matthew 28:18-20). This passage, commonly called “the Great Commission,” is not instructing us to simply “tell people about Jesus,” but rather an extensive God-ordained program to inform all people everywhere of everything Yeshua taught his early disciples (V. 20), in other words teach everyone the whole Bible from a messianic perspective.

Yet there is so much hesitation to speak God’s truth into people lives. I have heard over and over again, that we need to earn the right to be heard. But while we can lose the right to be heard through all sorts of bad behavior, we already have the right to be heard because we have been mandated by the Messiah himself to do exactly that.

But what do my stories of restaurants and baby names have to do with the Great Commission? Shouldn’t we reserve our unsolicited input for the loftier, more supposedly spiritual areas of life? But tell me, do you really think you will be able to effectively disciple the nations if you are too afraid to tell someone their pants are open?

A Clay Pot Nation

Western Wall and The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

The Temple Mount captured by Israel on July 7, 1967 illustrates the complexity of the work of God in our in our lives.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Earlier this month, June 10, was the fiftieth anniversary of the end of one of the most world-changing events in human history – the Six Day War. I remember it, sort of. I was nine years old, living in Montreal, where we were consumed, not by the affairs of the Middle East, but by Canada’s biggest party ever! – Expo 67. It was the centennial year, commemorating one hundred years since “Confederation,” when we became a “self-governing dominion of the British Empire with a federal structure” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederation#Canada). We like to think that’s when we became an “independent country,” but that’s another, pretty complicated, story.

Aerial view of Expos 67, Montreal

Expo 67, Montreal – mtlblog.com

All sorts of special events took place throughout the country in 1967, but nothing was like Expo. From April through October, Expo welcomed over 50 million visitors, including many heads of state such as Queen Elizabeth and French president Charles de Gaulle. During his visit on May 25, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation commemorating the Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 of one hundred and fifty years earlier, which was a disarmament agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom, the governing power over what later became Canada. This treaty “created the world’s longest east-west boundary – 5527 miles, and the longest demilitarized border in the world” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rush%E2%80%93Bagot_Treaty). What the public didn’t know at the time is that the U.S. President and the Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, had other border issues on their minds as they discussed the possibility of war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. While Canada was partying it up, the fledgling State of Israel was on the brink of destruction. While the one-hundred-year-old vast country was enjoying unprecedented peace with its neighbors, the nineteen-year-old one was about to engage in a fight for their survival.

Israeli paratroopers stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Israeli paratroopers stand in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. -GPO 06/07/1967 – http://www.sixdaywar.org/content/photos.asp

Fifty years later, it is almost impossible to imagine the situation Israel found itself in. Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq were intent on wiping Israel off the map. Ironically, Israel, instead, changed the map. Planning only to undermine their enemies’ ability to destroy them, Israel more than tripled its territory in only six days, capturing the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. There was no greater turn of events, however, than the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem. Taken by the Jordanians nineteen years earlier in the War of Independence, the Jewish inhabitants of the Old City were either killed or expelled. Access to the Wailing Wall (now the Western Wall) was forbidden to Jews. The reunification of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, more than any aspect of the Six Day War, strengthened Israeli nationhood and reconnected the Jewish world to its ancient homeland. In Israeli hands the holy places of the world’s major religions are protected, something that was not the case before that day.

To Israel at the time, with a few exceptions, such as Jerusalem, the captured territories were regarded as bargaining chips for peace. But tragically the Arab world would not come to the table. Still, Israel’s victory of those days along with its commitment to get along with its neighbors eventually did lead to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. But despite whatever positives resulted from this astounding military event, they are obscured by a great ambivalence as the tension between Israel and its neighbors continues.

For many, the continuing difficulties faced by Israelis and Palestinians obscures one of the greatest military victories of all time. But what was the alternative? The armistice lines of 1949 were no long-term solution. Israel could not reasonably live within such indefensible borders. The new state wasn’t even recognized by the Arab world – a reality that continues in much of the world today. But since 1967, Israel has been in a much stronger position, allowing it to thrive in spite of ongoing tensions. Few nations could achieve what the Jewish nation has in such a short time under such circumstances. And to think that just prior to the establishment of the state, six million Jews were systematically murdered by an almost-successful genocidal plot.

Far from a sense of ambivalence, we should be awestruck by the Six Day War and its aftermath. Instead of the harsh judgement incessantly targeting Israel, we would do better to celebrate its fortitude and resilience in the midst of an intolerable pressure cooker. Most countries would either crumble or disappear in the face of much less. Not Israel. The pressure instead has created a jewel that should be the envy of the world.

Why should we insist that an endeavor be regarded in a positive light only if the results are 100% positive? Life doesn’t work like that. A life-saving surgery, for example, might result in a scar or a disability, but wouldn’t we still celebrate the surgery as long as it met its main objective, that of saving a life?

The fact is the whole world, not just the Middle East, is not what it should be. Injustice, disease, death, and every kind of evil is part of the human story everywhere. What Israel endures on a national scale is no different from the trials and tribulations we all face due to what the Bible calls sin. But that doesn’t stop millions of people from pretending otherwise.

On a personal level, I have been slow to accept the realities of living in a world so affected by sin. Even with the reality of God in my life and the lives of my loved ones, I am still learning to navigate the brokenness we all share. The Bible tells us that we are fragile, breakable vessels containing great treasure. Because of what the Messiah has done for us, even though the presence and power of God fills our lives to overflowing, the troubled aspects of our humanness are not eradicated. To expect perfection from ourselves and others is a dead-end. We will learn to thrive only as we accept the great number of ambiguities that continue in this age.

The challenges we face as individuals are so wonderfully demonstrated by Israel. God’s covenantal faithfulness to the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is vividly displayed through a long and troubled history; no less so in the events of June 1967 and following. The ongoing tensions certainly need to be addressed, just like the issues in our own lives. Let’s not be put off by the presence of problems. Rather, let’s look to God for his help in the midst of them.

Meaning in a Meaningless World

Abstract concept of young woman on a tiny floating island depicting loneliness

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Believers often feel like Moses did during his time in Midian—“a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22; KJV). Moses never did fit in wherever he was. Destined to die as an infant along with all the Hebrew males of his day, he is rescued by the daughter of the King who had decreed his death sentence. Returned briefly to be nursed (for pay) by his own mother, he is then raised in Pharaoh’s household. After his attempt to alleviate his people’s suffering resulted in rejection by them and another death sentence by Pharaoh, he went into a self-imposed exile in Midian where he worked as a shepherd and started a family, naming his son “Gershom” (“stranger there”) to memorialize his sense of alienation. When God eventually called him to his true identity, he resisted. But God persisted and Moses becomes one of the greatest leaders of all time. Yet, despite the remarkable service he showed to his native people, he lived as a man apart, never truly belonging.

This sense of alienation from the world around us is normal for God’s people. The world as we know it doesn’t seem like home. Like those listed in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews, we are “strangers and exiles on earth” (11:13), “seeking a homeland” (11:14), “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (11:16).

At the current time, the discord we sense is exacerbated by an increasing sense of meaninglessness. Generations have been told that we are nothing more than the product of energy and matter plus chance. The masses seek to fill this void of meaninglessness with all sorts of distractions to mask growing despair. Unsatisfied with the pursuit of pleasure, some invent meaning for themselves through work, family, or various causes. Deep down they don’t really know why they do what they do, since they don’t believe there is a “why” to know.

Yeshua’s followers assert they know the “why,” that through the Messiah and the Scriptures we have meaning and purpose. But we regard that meaning and purpose as the antidote to a meaningless world. Agreeing with the world’s perspective of itself that it is meaningless, purposeless, and hopeless, we find meaning, purpose, and hope in an alternate existence in the future. This enables us to endure as “strangers in a strange land.”

While this may sound biblical, there is a subtle error in this way of looking at life. And this error undermines our calling to effectively serve God in an apparently meaningless world. It is appealing to turn our thoughts away from the perceived void of this life to visions of another world in order to cope with this one. But is that what authentic biblical spirituality is all about? Is this what it means to “desire a better country”? Were the ancient heroes of faith motivated by their desire for earth’s inevitable destruction and their transference to an immaterial existence? Did they suffer through a black hole of nothingness in the hope of being granted access to a distant otherly land of meaning and purpose?

That’s an interesting story, but not a biblical one. The world in which we live is not meaningless. It was created by God on purpose and for his purposes. He specially designed human beings and appointed us to steward Plant Earth, a responsibility he never rescinded. The alienation from the creation we experience Is not due to anything intrinsic, whether it be lack of meaning or anything else. We are strangers, not because we don’t belong on this planet, but because God’s plans and purposes for the planet were hijacked through our first parents’ collusion with Satan. God’s intention from that moment was to realign the creation with its designed purpose, where human beings fully and freely serve him under his reign through his Son, his chosen King.

Therefore, while true meaning is foreign to our current existence, God’s revelation through the Scriptures is not intended to provide us a disconnected state of mind to help us cope with an otherwise futile existence. The futility we struggle with is based on deep layers of misunderstanding due to the consequences of sin. Through the Bible, God gives us the opportunity to discover what life is really all about, the meaning and purpose of his creation.

All heroes of the faith whether it be Moses or those listed in the book of Hebrews or from any time in history yearn for the restoration of all things in the new heavens and the new earth when the plans and purposes of God will be in full synch with its inhabitants. Until then we have the opportunity in the name of Yeshua with the help of the Holy Spirit to not only to understand the true meaning of life, but to rescue others from the desperation of meaninglessness.

New York City Reflection #3: We ♥ New York!

As I have already shared in Reflections #1 & #2, our trip to New York City last week to attend the World Baseball Classic Qualifier was full of surprises. No greater surprise was that of New York City itself. As mentioned, this was really the first time there for both of us and we each carried with us our prejudices. Robin never wanted to visit there as her mind was filled with the stereotype of the rude New Yorker and muggings in Central Park. I knew there was much more to the U.S.’s biggest city than that, but I still was in no way prepared for the reality we would encounter.

First, we met some of the most friendly and helpful people in our entire lives there – and I am talking about strangers! In my first reflection I tell the story of the lady who came up from behind us to direct us to the better restaurant. Another time, as we got off the subway, we weren’t sure which way to go. So another lady noticing this, asked us if we needed help and pointed us in the right direction. Wherever we were, it was the same. On the street, in restaurants, in our hotel, it was all the same. I will share about the particular friendliness among the fans at the ballpark in my next (and final) reflection.

But speaking of the ballpark, I mentioned the friendliness of New Yorkers to a person I was talking to during one of the games, and he suggested that it was the effect of 9/11. The attack on the city and the great loss of life, according to him, changed the people for the better. I personally wouldn’t know, but we were certainly impressed.

[Note: I would guess that many of you reading this could share negative stories about New York. But every city has its share of good and bad. We are grateful for the privilege of seeing some of the good.]

Speaking of 9/11, our second of two excursions into Manhattan coincided with a special event called “The 2016 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk,” in support of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Stephen Siller was a New York City fire fighter, who had just gone off duty when he heard about the attack on the first tower. Not able to drive from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel due to the road closure, he strapped his 60 lbs. of gear to his back and ran through the tunnel to the World Trade Center, where he gave his life saving others. The foundation raises money for injured rescue and military servicemen and women. At least 25,000 people took part that day.

Our first destination that morning was the 9/11 memorial, two enormous waterfall pools, where each of the two towers once stood. Etched in metal around the perimeters are all the names of the over 2600 people who died there. Here is a brief video I took of the north pool, where the first tower to be hit was. To grasp the size of the pool, look at the people on the opposite side.

Later, back in the subway, we saw a couple of young ladies who must have been part of the Run & Walk. I will let the photo speak for itself:

Two young ladies in New York

After the Tunnel to Towers Run & Walk

A version of the words on her shirt is here.

Whether it be the magnitude of the heroics of Stephen Siller and people like him, the height of the buildings, the vast beauty of the surrounding area or Central Park, the impact of seeing Times Square or the theaters on Broadway, New York is big – but it was the bigness of its heart that impressed more than its size.

More photos:

Brooklyn Street

Walking from the bus to the subway, we turned down this street, and Robin got excited, saying “This is soooo Brooklyn!”

One World Trade Center

The new One World Trade Center (aka the Freedom Tower). Opened in November 2014, it is tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and the sixth-tallest in the world.

Strand Bookstore, Manhattan

On our way to Strand Bookstore, featuring “18 Miles Of Books”.

Times Square

Times Square is…different.

Times Square with Mickey Mouse mascot

You never know who you’ll meet in Times Square!

Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway

If only we had more time! Maybe next time!!

God-mented Reality

Young smiling man playing a video game in a wheat field

Pokémon Go is one of the most popular fads of all time. This smartphone-based game enhances the real-world by placing imaginary creatures, called Pokémon, in all sorts of locations based on GPS coordinates. Pokémon may be found down your street, in parks, in and around tourist attractions or historic landmarks, and so on.  As you look at your normal surroundings through your phone’s camera, you never know when or where a Pokémon may appear. Many are enthralled by this interactive game experience superimposed on what was just recently boring, normal life.

Pokémon Go is an application of a technology that’s been in existence for some time called Augmented Reality (AR). It is unlike Virtual Reality (VR) in that while VR immerses users into a simulated environment, AR provides users with additional information or an enhanced experience of the real world. An example of VR is a flight simulator, where users experience flying without being in a real airplane. With AR we can look at a famous landmark such as the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building through our smart phone and on the screen pops up historical background or tourist information. There is a surveying application that provides geological data when viewing terrain. In both these cases our view of the real world is enhanced or augmented with additional information. While this information is not completely unknown, it is not readily known within the immediate context. Therefore, we can say that AR makes the unknown known or the invisible visible.

What if I told you that you can have the power the see the invisible or to know the unknowable without Pokémon Go or any application of augmented reality. You don’t even need a smart phone. If you think AR is something, just wait until you try “God-mented Reality”!

God-mented Reality comes in several forms. First, while the world around us and its events are knowable through our five senses, understanding the world as the creation of God, made on purpose and for a purpose, is not naturally known. In order to truly perceive the meaning of life, we need the revelation of God. The Bible augments our natural experience of life by accurately interpreting the world in which we live. While proponents of Intelligent Design are right to demonstrate the reasonableness of deducing that the complexities of life point to a designer, it is the Scriptures that clarify his identity and intentions.

The negative elements of our sin-soaked world easily distracts from the truth that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). This came to me so dramatically during my trip to Haiti this past summer. The troubles of this very poor country had eclipsed the greater truth of God’s presence and beauty in that land. Through his Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I was able to see Haiti through God’s eyes.

Similarly with events. The Bible is full of catastrophic phenomena, from the flood of Noah’s time to the ten plagues of Moses. We know that these were not random freak natural events, because we have recorded prophetic utterances to inform us that they were purposeful acts of God. Real things, real events, but augmented with the necessary additional information that enables us to relate to these things effectively.

If you say “God-mented reality” aloud, you may hear it as “God-meant-it reality.” This is exactly how Jacob’s son Joseph viewed his life. Victimized by his jealous brothers, he knew there was more going on than the negative effects of his brothers’ actions. He saw the powerful hand of God at work in spite of their evil intentions: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

It gets better! Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Jesus’s life was not a reaction to circumstances nor driven by a cause. He had nothing to prove nor was he fulfilling his dreams. He also didn’t live a spiritual life disconnected from the material world. Far from it! He interacted with the real world of God’s creation, effectively confronting the effects of sin and evil based on what he saw God his Father doing. God-mented reality. He was keenly aware of what God was doing in all the ways described about, plus he saw into the invisible realm. He knew the difference between natural illness and demonic oppression. He saw people’s hearts and knew their thoughts. This is not due to his divine nature, as some may think, but because of his ongoing dependency on the Holy Spirit; the same Holy Spirit who has been poured out upon every one of his followers.

Note that the promise of the Spirit as foretold by the prophet Joel and fulfilled on the Jewish festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) majors on seeing into the invisible realm:

And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29; compare Acts 2:17-18)

Dreams, vision, prophesying – God-mented reality – God’s enabling his people to proclaim what our natural eyes cannot see. The creation is made up of two aspects, the visible and the invisible. Most of us only focus on the visible, resulting in our being like the prophet Elisha’s servant, who was overwhelmed by his circumstances. Elisha, on the other hand, lived in the awareness of both the visible and invisible spheres. That’s why in the face of a great opposing army, he could confidently tell his servant, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).  In response to Elisha’s prayer, God caused the servant to see the invisible realm: “So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” There was a stronger, yet unseen army, fighting on their behalf, but until the servant experienced God-mented reality, his understanding of reality was insufficient. It’s not as if there exists more than one reality. The creation is made up of both the visible and invisible realms. Our problem is that we, like Elisha’s servant, tend to only be aware of the visible. But now due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we too can have our eyes open. The better we see into the invisible realm, the better we will be able to understand and interact with the visible.

I am aware of the abundance of misunderstanding and abuse there is with regard to human interaction with the invisible realm. But this should not stop us from pursuing an authentically biblical approach to such things. Bogus claims of the miraculous and claiming the Lord’s leading to justify selfish ambition are no less harmful than the denying of Scriptures’ teaching on spiritual gifts, prophecy, healing, and so on. It is time to follow the Messiah and start doing what we see God our Father doing.

Why spend time trying to find funny little creatures through your smart phone, when God wants to reveal the invisible world to his people. Through God-mented Reality we can begin to see the world in which we live in its fullness and be better equipped to set people free from their oppression, helping them to be all that God wants them to be.

Response to Canadian PM regarding Holocaust Statement

Yesterday, the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust:

“On this day, we pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance.

“The Holocaust is a stark reminder of the dangers and risks of allowing hate, prejudice, and discrimination to spread unchallenged. It also reminds us that silence must never be an option when humanity is threatened.

“As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.” (http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2016/01/27/statement-prime-minister-canada-holocaust-remembrance-day#sthash.HaeK6PuF.dpuf)

His failure to make explicate reference to the Jewish people and/or anti-Semitism prompted me to submit the following to his office:

I would like to express my great concern that the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday regarding International Holocaust Remembrance Day included no reference to its particular relevancy to the Jewish people or to anti-Semitism.

While many other people suffered and died at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust teaches us the need for tolerance of all religious and ethnic groups, to pretend that it was a general evil against humanity rather than a very specific and calculated crime against the Jewish people, not only fuels anti-Semitism, but undermines society’s ability to effectively deal with specific prejudice and hatred towards identifiable groups, be that the Jews or others.

If you share my concern, feel free to send your comments to him as well (http://pm.gc.ca/eng/contactpm).