Fighting Evil with Grace: We are called to put out the fire!

After a recent presentation, the former Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Jonathan Sacks responded to a question with these comments (excerpts only[1]):

“Abraham sees a palace. That means that he sees the world has order. Therefore, it has a Creator. But the palace is in flames! – which means the world is full of disorder. It is full of evil, violence, injustice. Now nobody builds a building and then goes away and deserts it. Therefore, if there is a fire there must be somebody in charge to put it out. The building must have an owner. Where is he? And that is Abraham’s question. Where is God in this world?

That is the question that gives Abraham no peace. Here, if I am right, that is the starting point of Jewish faith.

In Judaism, faith does not begin with an answer. It begins with a question. It doesn’t begin in harmony. It begins in dissonance.

Here it is: if God created the world then God created man. Why then does God allow man to destroy the world? How can we reconcile the order of the world with the disorder of human society? Can God have made the world only to desert it? That is Abraham’s question. Can it be the world has no-one in charge, no owner? That is his question. …”

Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain that there are only two logical possibilities here and what they are and imply, but that Abraham rejects both of them[2]!

“ … Either God exists, in which case there is no evil. Or evil exists, in which case there is no God. But supposing both exist? Supposing there are both God and evil? Supposing there are both the palace and the flames?

Now if that is so, if my interpretation is right, then Judaism begins not in the conventional place where faith is thought to begin, namely in wonder that the world is. Judaism[3] begins in the opposite, in the protest against a world that is not as it ought to be.

At the very heart of reality, by which I mean reality as we see it, from our point of view, there is a contradiction between order and chaos: the order of creation and the chaos we make.

Now the question is: how we do we resolve that contradiction?

And the answer is that that contradiction between the palace and the flames, between the world that is and the world that ought to be, cannot be resolved at the level of thought. It doesn’t exist! You cannot resolve it! Logically, philosophically, in terms of theology or theodicy, you cannot do it!

The only way you can resolve that tension is by action; by making the world better than it is.
That is the only way you can lessen the tension between the palace and the flames. When things are as they ought to be, when there is only a palace and no flames – then we have resolved the tension. Then we have reached our destination. But that is not yet.

It was not yet for Abraham and it is not yet for us. And from this initial contradiction, from this cognitive dissonance, are born the following … fundamental features (of Judaism):

Firstly, the primary thing (in Judaism) is ‘doing’, is action, is deed, is mitzvah. Because only the mitzvah makes the world a little less dissonant between what it is and what it ought to be.

Secondly: the whole programme of Judaism, the project of the Torah, is ‘tikkun olam’ in the precise sense ‘mending a fragmented, fractured, world’. …” <end quote>

This is, I believe, the perfect definition of the ‘grace’ we are called to exhibit, if we desire to receive the Grace of YHVH!

We are to act with grace, with overflowing love’ toward our neighbour, and our fractured, hurting world.

The Christian world is big on grace, but perhaps they are a little confused about it. I discuss this in my article ‘Amazing Grace’ – see here


[2] Part of the answer is a sense in which evil is not evil after all – confused? Read Rabbi Sacks article and book.

[3] Or we could say, the message of the Tanakh, the message of YHVH and His Son, begins here

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The Actualizers

A movie has very recently been produced titled ‘Inside Israel’ that looks at why Israelites have been so amazingly successful in so many areas of human endeavour and why the Nation of Israel continues it’s miraculous development as one of the greatest and most successful countries on the planet.

In this movie Dr Tal Ben-Shahar outlines the 6 main principles that he sees as foundational to this success. He calls them ‘actualizers’ and states that each one is not unique to Israel but that the combination of all six may well be.

These 6 actualizers are all derived from the Sh’ma (Shema – Deut 6:4-9; 11:12-22 & Num 15:37-42), perhaps the most important foundational portion of the Tanakh for the Jewish people.

The Actualizers:

  1. Family
  2. Adversity to Advantage
  3. Chutzpah
  4. Education
  5. Taking Action
  6. Tikkun OLam

This brilliant movie can be ordered from http://www.israelinsidethemovie.com/

To quote a little from the web site:

Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Big Difference is a new feature-length documentary that explores the positive characteristics of Israeli society from a humanistic, psychological, and emotional perspective. This insightful and uplifting documentary sidesteps the usual conversation of politics, conflict and violence, and tells the story of the Israeli people – whose resilience has propelled Israel to the forefront of world innovation and progress.

Despite daily challenges ranging from limited resources to security needs, Israeli creativity and inventiveness help make the world a better place. Israel has made significant advancements in the fields of science, environment, medicine and technology, and has shared these developments with the rest of the world.

How did this happen? What underlying growth factors have given rise to this small nation’s triumph over adversity?

The 55-minute film is hosted by Dr. Tal Ben Shahar, who gave up the unique distinction of being Harvard University’s most popular lecturer to return to his native country, Israel. In the film, Ben Shahar explores the core character strengths – called “actualizers” – that enable Israelis to succeed against incredible odds. Through Tal’s eyes we explore the deep-seated values such as education, family, and responsibility for the world (a Jewish concept known as “tikkun olam”), which directly contribute to Israel’s accomplishments in the economic, technological and humanitarian spheres. And while none of these actualizers are in and of themselves unique to Israel, in combination they are bringing about unparalleled progress and achievement.

This movie is well worth the cost of purchase!

We hope to touch on the special nature of  these actualizers and how Israelites embrace them in our next Podcast.