May 18, 2003
If there is a picture emerging from the war on terror, it resembles a
Picasso on drugs. Any attempt to make sense out of Al Qaeda, Hamas,
Hezbollah, etc., seems doomed to failure from the start. There are no
achievable goals in this war unless your goal is to kill people. And yet,
one canít resist trying to discern the motives behind the continuing round
of senseless bombings.
Ostensibly, the problem is Israel and the occupied territories. Forgive
me if I am not persuaded. The deal that was on the table, brokered by
President Clinton, with the offer of land for peace made by Barak would have
settled the question of the occupied territories. Arafat walked away from
that deal because it was not what he really wanted. What he wanted was the
destruction, not merely of Israel, but of Jewry. Witness the bombing of a
Jewish center in Morocco. That had nothing to do with Israel, but everything
to do with hatred of the Jews. That bombing had nothing to do with Arafat?
No, but he is inexorably tied to the entire terror movement. Anyone who
thinks they donít communicate isnít paying attention.
No one is even claiming credit for the latest round of bombings. No one
is making any demands or asking for any concessions. This in itself is said
to be typical of Al Qaeda. In truth it is typical of Islamist terrorists of
any stripe. The object is killing.
The roots of terror in the Islamic world run very deep and they have
become confused in the extreme in recent years. What many do not seem to
realize is that there is a very strong element of organized crime in the
Islamist movement. Yes, there are religious zealots ready to kill themselves
in the name of Allah. But these are not the people with the money. The
zealots are being used by criminal elements who engage in the traffic of
weapons, drugs, and whatever else makes money. Add to this mix a gang of
thugs who simple enjoy inflicting pain and death on people and who take
special pleasure in torturing the weak, and you have the real picture of
terror in todayís world.
Common thugs and criminals are the organizing element in Islamic
terrorism. Religion merely gives it the fuel it needs dominate more people
and control greater wealth. Doubt it? Perhaps you didnít hear about the
three semi trailer loads of hundred dollar bills Saddam and his son spirited
out of the banks in Iraq before the war started?
Where all this will lead is anybodyís guess, but at least the world is
finally coming to grips with the real nature of the threat. The world order
is beginning to change in ways none of expected 20 years ago. Stay awake.
May 26, 2003
It isnít easy to get a clear view of things these days. It has become
increasingly evident that everyone has an axe to grind and, after all, we
have an election year coming up. One of the things that became clear to me
in watching all the TV coverage of the Iraq war was that one had to take
everything, even the TV images that we saw, with a grain of salt. We have
long known that seemingly objective newspapers regularly let their editorial
opinions bleed over into the coverage of the news. We just had a classic
example of how television does the same thing. It is still going on in the
coverage of the rebuilding process in IraqĖwhich surely qualifies as a messy
business with an uncertain outcome.
But once in a while, a voice is heard that helps get things into focus.
It is not always a matter of good reporting, but of sound logic applied to
the reporting that is out there. Christopher Hitchens gives us a really good
analysis of the psychological and cultural effects of the Iraq war and
subsequent terror activities. Much of what we read today is more Chicken
Little than sound journalism, but Hitch thinks it through and arrives at
some surprising conclusions. Read it by
May 27, 2003
Sometimes we answer questions too quickly, when we would be far better
off saying "I donít know" and waiting until we do. Nowhere is this more true
than in religion. It is hard to discuss theology and make any progress
because everyone thinks they know already. And because religious and
theological arguments have raged back and forth for centuries, it is
exceedingly difficult to think about these things from a fresh point of
view. The terminology has been corrupted so that we often donít mean the
same thing when we use the same words. I find it very hard to talk to people
about Old Covenant and New Covenant issues because the words have been
overused and have special meaning attached to them.
Covenant is a perfectly good word in law, but if you use it in a
doctrinal or theological discussion, things go south in a hurry. Thatís why,
when I come to a passage in Galatians, I try to get a fresh look at it
without all the baggage we carry with us. Consider this one.
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's
covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to
seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this
I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the
law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it
should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:15-17)
Paul has a bad habit of dropping little ideas into his letters with no
explanation. You can miss them if you are not careful. This covenant with
with Abraham was confirmed by God in Christ. It would not be
wrong to call Abrahamís covenant a "Christian covenant."
I know this may seem obvious, but it must be said: Christianity and
Judaism are two very different religions. I think Jews know this better than
Christians. We speak of things "Judeo-Christian" as though they were two
denominations of the same faith. Jews and Christians share one thing: that
book we call the Old Testament. At some level of understanding, we may share
a belief in the same supreme being, but there are some who would even
dispute that: Christianity believes that Jesus is God, and Judaism most
certainly does not.
Christianity believes that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not
of ourselves. We believe we are made righteous and saved by the blood of
Jesus Christ. Judaism believes that salvation, whatever that may mean, is
something achieved through the study and application of the law to our
lives. In a sense, they believe we save ourselves. To that end, they believe
in obedience, not only to the written law of the Old Testament, but to the
traditions of the Fathers as well.
Christianity sees the law as defining sin. Judaism sees the law as
defining righteousness. Both are correct, but in Judaism, one pursues
righteousness by works of law. In Christianity, one pursues righteousness by
faith in Christ. It is in this fundamental conflict that a great deal of
misunderstanding arises when people read the NT... They assume that there is
a conflict between Law and grace, when in fact, the conflict is between
Judaism and Grace.
The NT writers do not make this easy for us. They canít, because they are
writing to their own worldĖthere is no way they could have anticipated our
difficulties with their writings. Nevertheless, if we can just understand
the nature of the real conflict, then most of it will fall easily in line.
In the first century Christian church, there were those who held to the
tenets of Judaism while embracing Jesus as the Messiah. They taught, as
Rabbinic Judaism still does, salvation by works of law. And since laws are
good, we need to create more of them, which Judaism had done.
Not long after Paul had passed through Galatia, members of the
circumcision party from Jerusalem followed him into the area, seriously
confusing the issue of salvation. Paul does his best to clarify the issues.
Galatians 3 and 4 are now posted in
the Reflections section.
May 30, 2003
Yahweh of Zion
"Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the
people his doings" (Psalm
"Yahweh who dwells in Zion" is and interesting construction. You may have
noticed that the Bible only uses first names to identify men, occasionally
adding the word, ben, "son of," to designate which person we are
talking about. Men were also identified by their tribe or their city. Hence,
"Yahweh of Zion." This becomes more significant when you realize that there
were other Yahwehs among the Canaanites. Some even had consorts.