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Sunday, August 29, 2021

PS - A Happy Ending, and Lessons from the Story of Naaman :)

 

I did later privately forgive the person that I mention in the post below, and when I learned they died, I remembered the good.

It's just recent events rekindle old memories like that, ya know? 

Plus forgiveness is a process - especially when the person never apologizes, continues to justify their actions until they die, actually believing themselves patriotic, righteous, and "providing for their family" - as well as when they never realize the long-lasting ripple effects their behavior and choices had on not just those around them, but in some cases, their community, their country, or even the world.


But forgiveness really isn't about them anyway - it's about freeing yourself from the damage they caused :)

And I neglected to mention the best part of the story, the happy ending - which is not JUST the happy marriage and life I have now, with my husband :)

Also, that experience was the impetus for the call, which I've written about here a few times, to a rabbi that changed my approach to God and my life, which I'm going to tell again today for anyone who missed it :)


So, I was driving, with my heart  beating like crazy, playing and singing with my daughter in the back seat and trying to act like everything was okay, but also wavering between praying and being mad at God for not rescuing me out of this family very early on - but then at the same time, I couldn't deny that it was pure chance that I saw that 20/20 special just a few days before that confrontation with this person that tipped me off. 

My daughter was very young, so it was unusual that I ever got to sit down and watch a full show of anything, and usually, it wasn't 20/20 on a Friday night  - but in those days, that show was on at about 9 or 10 p.m. and she was in bed.  


It starting me thinking, and when filing the documents a few days later, I had to ask, hoping I just had an overactive imagination  - but was surprised by the answers given - and then the Gravitron ride began.

Was this one of those overly-coincidental things that sometimes happen that make you look up and go, "Was that you?"

I determined that was silly and shrugged it off, at the time.

As I mentioned, I told no one the full story for three years, just that this person was involved in something illegal that I couldn't be a part of, and that they were dangerous. 


However, I was hurting ... well, traumatized, truth be told ... and felt stuck on the Gravitron ride.

In case you don't know what I mean, the Gravitron ride is that ride at amusement parks or fairs when it starts spinning so fast, you stick to the wall, and the bottom drops out - it's fun when you choose to get on it and know it's safe - but when trauma forces you on the metaphoric Gravitron - not so much.


Struggling with where God was, in all this mess, I landed upon the thought, "If there is a God, why would he care about me, when he let 6 million of his own people die in the holocaust?  The horrors of what Christians of color endured in slavery, and their children?  Isn't that arrogant of me to think he would help ME if he didn't help THEM?"


So it was then that I decided to call a rabbi and ask him that - how they reconciled that for themselves?


His name was Rabbi David, and he could've said, and probably should've said, "What an impertinent question, you ignorant little Goy, you have no idea what you're talking about" - but he didn't :)



This is NOT a picture of Rabbi David (it's actually a picture of Rabbi Neal Katz in Texas) - it's just an image of what I imagined Rabbi David may have looked like, only hearing his voice over the phone (though maybe a bit younger) :)






He was very kind, very calm, and very patient, and exactly the father-figure I needed, the complete opposite of what I'd just experienced.

The conversation went something like this:


Me"Hi, Rabbi David.  My name is Chrystal, and I'm really struggling with my faith and where God is, at the moment.  I was raised a Christian, I hope that's okay?  But I've become agnostic in recent years, nearly atheist - but at the moment, I'm just - struggling." 

 

Rabbi David:  "That is absolutely okay, you called at a good time, and I'm always happy to help anyone struggling with faith." 

 

Me:  "Thank you, I really appreciate the time.  I've just experienced something with family that I can't seem to get over.  I can't and won't go into details, but despite being agnostic, my natural inclination, or maybe my upbringing, brought me to pray.  You know what they say, "There's no atheists in foxholes."  Actually, the person responsible for this situation taught me that phrase, ironically."  
"Anyway, I don't think I know how, because the way I was raised, in charismatic Christianity, prayer gave you power, which to me is almost the same as witchcraft, when it's not supposed to be about personal power, is it?"  
"Then I got mad at God, if it's true he cares about me and prayer works,  why didn't he rescue me from this as a child?  Why did other Christians around us not realize what was going on, with both parents, and do something?  They believed them just because they were Christian or were white and had money?"  
"Then I started to feel arrogant, for even asking for that, or anything,  that God would care about and help me, when he didn't save 6 million of his own people during the holocaust or people of color during slavery, even babies?  Much more righteous and innocent people than me - who am I to even ask?"  
"Then I got mad at God, again - if he exists, why he allows these things to happen?" 
"So then I called you.  I don't know how to reconcile this - and I know that the Jewish people continue to have faith despite the holocaust.  How do you do it?  How can you believe in a God that let 6 million of his own people, including babies, be tortured and killed?  

 

Rabbi David:  "Because, honey, we don't believe God rescues us, especially from choices we get ourselves into, but even things we don't or are born into or what people use their free will to do to us.  Christians are taught that God protects and rescues, but if you look at the Old Testament, rescue and miracles are very rare.  Can you think of miracles in the Old Testament?  There aren't many."  

 

Me:  "Well, there's Moses, the Red Sea, etc.  Enoch being taken up to heaven without death.  Naaman being healed from Leprosy by dipping in the Jordan River.  Daniel in the lion's den.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego. Eclipses during battle.  I'm not sure the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a miracle, it was a little scary - and how come he doesn't do that with evil people today?"  

 

Rabbi David:  "That's right.  Those instances are when our civilization and race were very young, fledgling, and if he hadn't intervened, with the Pharaoh especially, we wouldn't have survived as a race and faith at all - there would've been no survivors at all or incorporated into Egyptian culture and faith completely.  Miracles and divine intervention are now very rare, and usually with very special people for an important purpose or during an important time we don't have the big picture of.  And today, though Hitler got many of us, he didn't get ALL of us, we survived and thrived. God's promise to Abraham that we would be as many as the stars came true :)
"You see, Christians are taught to expect miracles, to expect to be blessed financially, etc.  There's a certain amount of "we're special to God" mentality in that.  We don't believe we're "special," and we don't "expect" anything from God, we just respect him, appreciate him and are grateful :)" 

 

Me:  "Well, I think that any of those "miracles" in the bible had scientific explanations anyway, like washing in the Jordan River - it probably contained a lot of sulfur, which cures leprosy.  Even with Jesus, if those miracles happened, there was a scientific explanation. Also I think a lot of those stories were allegories or metaphor and never actually happened, like Job - I think that story is a metaphor for Israel." 

 

Rabbi David:  "Right, but couldn't it be both science and spiritual?  How did early-civilization Elisha know that certain waters contained natural antibiotics like sulfur that could heal leprosy?  He didn't.  In fact, he still didn't even after Naaman was healed, he just knew on a spiritual level doing so would help Naaman, not knowing why.  In fact, did your Jesus know exactly why the things he used to heal worked, like sulfur water or certain compounds in mud could have curative effects on growing cataracts, or was he just following a spiritual prompt?"  

 

Me: "So ... do you believe in prophets?"  

 

Rabbi David:  "I believe that everyone can tap into a spiritual plane, and some people are just better at it than others, and know what to do, even if they don't know exactly  how or why."  

 

Me:  "Yeah, and then there are some people, like my Mom, who believes she's a prophetess, but her predictions rarely happen, and are her own fears, and usually do more harm than good."  

 

Rabbi David:  "I don't know your mom, but yep, there are those out there, too, even in our faith.  Lots of well-intentioned people who misguided themselves, and also lots of people doing things in God's name for selfish gain. Time  usually tells the tale.   Also, faith must be balanced with reason, but even biblical prophets made mistakes.  They're human, too." 

 

Me:  "There's always this societal push between believing one or the other, science or faith, logic versus instinct.  Or maybe that's just my own internal struggle lol." 

 

Rabbi David:  "I think both.  There is a legitimate push to choose between the two, as if it's black or white, and people get out of balance.  Some people believe beyond the point of reason.  Some smart people can't  allow room for spiritual prompting or instinct.  Both are important and should constantly be put in check by the other.  Smart people can't help but question God, and that's okay, he doesn't expect you to believe anything blindly.  God can handle your questions, even your anger.  He probably thinks it's cute, just like when our kids do lol.  And then they grow up and become disillusioned with us, that we're not exactly what they think we should be." 
"Then they become parents, too, and they get it, and it often works out lol.  And sometimes they're right, like in your situation with your parents. God never meant for your parents to be the way they are, honey.  I'm sure it makes him very sad, whatever happened.  And I  know it's especially hard to trust God when your own parents are so untrustworthy, but it's important to separate out God from your parents."  
"Regardless, we don't expect miracles or pray for rescue or that other people will gain insight or consequence, we don't consider ourselves "special" to God.  We pray for wisdom, second-wind strength, and that God's presence can be felt.  And I can promise you, if you talk to those who were in concentration camps, who still practice the faith, they'll tell you that God's presence could still be felt, even in that darkness, even before death.  And in the end, we had faith that it would all end someday, because it always does, with lessons learned."
"And it DID end, and things changed for the better - with most in the world learning an important lesson, and with us learning we could just as easily learn to hate back, but that's the antidote - NOT to hate back, even forgive - not because they deserve it, because it frees you from their disease.  Not everyone learned this lesson, no, but it's not about what happens to them, it's about what happens to us, our own souls"  
"The point is, God isn't the one that needs to change - it's your expectations of God.  Change your expectations of what God actually does, and you'll never be disappointed with prayer. "

 

 

Well, that hit me like a ton of bricks. 

The Gravitron ride just ... stopped.

In fact, I felt like Naaman, cleaning myself of spiritual leprosy, based on this Rabbi's advice.

 I felt sufficiently humbled, as a Christian-turned-atheist/agnostic.


Rabbi David was right, I often confused the nature of God with my parents.  And it was true, perhaps it wasn't that there wasn't an intelligent designer of this creation, there wasn't a problem with the way God works, but the way I worked, what I expected God to do and had been taught versus reality - and that perhaps faith was simply science we didn't yet understand.

Thus I thanked him profusely and then skulked away lol.

This conversation had a profound impact on my life.  I don't pray for rescue any longer -  especially if there was a choice I made to get myself in that situation.

(Well, that's not true, I think we all have, at times, but it's honestly setting up for disappointment.)

I usually pray for self-insight, discernment and wisdom, both earthly and spiritual, second-wind strength,  self-control, and for the peace and presence of God and his comfort can be found and felt, both for myself and others, that myself, or the person I'm praying for, won't feel alone, even at the hour of their death - and I'm never disappointed :) 


This Sunday morning, I decided to reread the story of Naaman, it had been a long time, which is found in II Kings Chapter 5.


It's amazing when as an adult, you open your mind to the perspective of the way other faiths look at God and then reread the bible - you notice little nuances and lessons you missed, because you were so focused on your own culture-conditioned ways of looking at things, especially if you were taught that way by your parents and church - when the bible doesn't necessarily say or mean things that way, and context and big picture lessons often get overlooked, too.


Several lessons I'd overlooked in this story, one in particular brought me comfort and strengthened my faith - and it's not the part you think it would be - it's about the true nature of God :)





Just to summarize, Naaman was a great commander of the Aram army (modern-day Syria).  He had been afflicted with leprosy, and went to his king, asking if he could go to the King of Israel to ask for help with healing, after a Israelite servant girl suggested it to his wife.  

The king gave permission, and off Naaman went, believing in another God, but desperate for a cure. 

Upon arriving before the King of Israel, the King of Israel (unnamed in this story) knew he could do nothing for the man himself, believed it a trick and tore his robes, believing the King of Aram was trying to pick a quarrel with him and attack.


Elisha, the prophet, heard of this and was like, "Erm - why did you tear your robes?  You're right, you can't heal this man and neither can I, we're not God.  However, God may have some direction on this matter that will bring peace instead of war?"


Thus, Naaman went to Elisha's house for healing, but Elisa curiously refused to come out lol. 

Instead, he sent out his servant, Gehazi, instructing Naaman, to tell him to wash in the Jordan River seven times.

Well, Naaman got mad.  

As a great Syrian commander, this meager-living Jewish prophet refused to come out and see him, how DARE he? ;) 

Plus ew?

The Jordan river stinks, it's full of runoff (likely from sulfur -water springs as tributaries) - the Abana and Parphar rivers were much cleaner and smelled better?


However, his servants essentially said, "If the prophet had told you himself, would you have done it?  Just try it, it can't make it any worse, at least?"

Naaman apparently was like, "Yeah, it's just THAT guy I don't trust" (which we learn later was for good reason.)


So Naaman washes in the stinky Jordan river 7 times  - and is cured of his leprosy (likely from the sulfur). 

He brings many gifts directly to Elisha, who sees him in person, now, but refuses to accept them, as it was not him who healed him, it was God, and Naaman simply followed the spiritual direction - and blessings aren't about money and wealth anyway.

Naaman tells him that he knows now that the God of Israel is the most powerful and true God, and that though he may hear of him bowing down to Rimmon at the temple in Aram, know it's because he has to, but his heart is with the God of Israel.


However, he was right to initially distrust Elisha's servant, Gehazi overall.

Because Gehazi ran after Naaman, falsely claiming that Elisha had changed his mind because two fellow prophets had just arrived and needed two talents of silver and clothing, which Naaman gave to him.




When he returned, Elisha called him out, basically saying, "Now is not the time to be thinking of ourselves, we just avoided war, and here you go, thinking of yourself and how you can profit from it - in my name, and more importantly, in God's name. As a result, Naaman's leprosy will now fall on you and your descendants" - and it did.


Elisha didn't play around, he was pretty harsh - and so was God, in the Old Testament.


I think the reason for this perception of God in the OT is multifactorial - and not because, or just because, of the Christian theory that there was no forgiveness, only atonement, in the old testament.


Remember, this was a civilization mostly under Babylonian rule and law, and their Hammurabi's code of law clearly influenced Levitican law, as some of the laws are exactly the same as were carved into that code stone.  

Babylonian law was swift, harsh, and merciless.  

This is because even though the ancient Sumerians (later Babylonians) believed in Gods, they didn't believe in an afterlife, so all punishment was swift, harsh, and merciless.

Thus, the Israelites, mostly under Babylonian rule and clearly influenced by their code of law, perceived God as swift, harsh, and merciless like law, as opposed to God's true nature - again, our  misperception of who God is versus reality - just like Rabbi David mentioned my perception of God getting confused with my parents ;)


Also, we can't forget they were toddler civilization.  

With toddlers, they won't understand if you explain to them why something shouldn't be done, just not to do it - period.  

Also, toddlers aren't capable of self-differentiation - they don't understand others as a separate entity from themselves yet.  They don't understand if something hurts someone else, it doesn't hurt them, which is why they giggle if they scratch or pinch you and you say, "ouch" - not because they're evil, but because think it's a game, and they're testing the limits of where the self stops and others begin.

(FYI, your reaction to this is a very important empathy lesson - don't overreact like they're evil, because they're not - this is a normal part of child development.  However, also don't underreact, like it doesn't hurt.  It's "Ouch!" - just so they understand the concept of others being separate entities from themselves, why causing others discomfort pain that doesn't also hurt them, and we don't want to cause others discomfort or pain.  For more on this, read Piaget on the stages of child development.)


Then by the time Jesus came along, we were a young child-like civilization, so he explained it and literally repudiated the Babylonian influence over Levitican OT law, like "an eye for an eye,"  stating that all law was meant to hang on loving thy neighbor instead, rather than lack of mercy.

However, in the New Testament, God stopped "striking people down," even before Christ's death, for doing things in his name, simply warning them repeatedly - except in one instance. 

Ananias and Sapphira were immediately struck dead after it was discovered they were stealing from the first church.

Why?  

Because the first church had been set up under the explicit direction and guidance by the Holy Spirit - so their skimming off the top was considered blasphemy of the Holy Spirit - and again, the bible says that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin.  

Plus, had they continued, there would be no Christian church today.


So ... what lessons can we learn from the story of Naaman - and by that, I mean other than the obvious one of faith and trust in God (which was NOT blind faith, mind you)?

And by "we," I mean, Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, serving the same God?



1)  First of all, the story makes it very clear that God is not a fan of war unless absolutely necessary, as in self-defense - and definitely not over faith. 


This situation almost started a war, because these two cultures and faiths already distrusted each other, then the King of Israel misperceived the King of Aram (Syria's) request for help as a trick question.

The bible is very clear in this story that God already blessed the Syrian, Naaman, when this story began, because he sought him (albeit also worshipped other Gods for certain things in Babylonian pantheon), and apparently, because he would be instrumental in keeping peace between the two cultures at an important time.  


2)  God doesn't favor one culture or faith over another, his mercy is for all faiths as his children, regardless - even if they're confused as to what to believe - he just wants you to not rule him out/consider him, as Naaman did, who gave him a chance and God blessed/healed him as a result :)


In fact, note how much human distrust had been created between the two kingdoms and cultures over disagreements on faith - when God himself didn't appear to care what faith people were unless it caused war - and actually blessed/healed Naaman the Syrian.


In fact, Naaman straight up admitted, in advance, that he would still be forced to bow down before Rimmon - but Elisha didn't care and God didn't punish him - isn't that interesting?


Now, I found this interesting, because of the whole Esther and Mordecai story about bowing.

But again, this could be explained by the fact that God isn't about punishment for belief - he seems to care more about what people who already claim to follow him say and do in his name.


Though at times, it may appear God is "jealous" in the Old Testament, but again, I think that's OT-authors' misperception of God under the swift-and-harsh Babylonian rule of law.

Because in actuality, God never asked anyone to go and charge people down and massacre, persecute, bully, or even distrust other people simply based on their faith - only self-defense - and he especially got pissed when great leaders did so in his name, because of the effects it had on his people.

For example, David didn't die very well, the bible says he suffered - and the prophet, Nathan also told him that this suffering, was not only because of the Bathsheba incident (having her husband killed to have her for himself), but that his current suffering was due to "shedding too much blood in God's name" - and a further punishment was that he would never lay eyes on, or set foot in, the temple that his son, Solomon, would build in God's name.

(Which is why David named his son, "Solomon," meaning "wisdom," in the hopes that his son would have more wisdom than he had, and God granted that request.)



However, that is NOT to say that people always suffer in life because of their own sin, because all of the disciples died badly, and we make saints of suffering Christians, don't we?

However, David was a special case - he was the second and preferred King of Israel, whom God expected much from - and yet he let God down one too many times, and God specifically let him know that.


3)   God's blessings don't typically come in the form of money or power, Old Testament or New Testament, unless that leader has a specific purpose affecting many (even if for nothing more to use that person to prove God's power despite them).  

Instead, note that God's blessings in the bible, both OT and NT, usually come in the form healing - physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual. 



I love it that Elisha refused to come outside himself to tell Naaman himself.

Why?  

Well, it wasn't because Elisha feared leprosy, that's pretty clear. 

It was both a humbling lesson for Naaman and simultaneously asking Naaman to take an extra leap of faith, despite the message being given through a clearly untrustworthy servant. 


God doesn't care who you are or how much money or power you have - "Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up."(James 4:10) 


There's a reason why Jesus was born in a stable to poor immigrant parents - hellloooo?


Also, Naaman clearly distrusted Gehazi, rightfully so - and yet in the end, listened to his spiritual instincts, even if through an untrustworthy messenger.   

His early instincts were correct, the messenger himself was not to be trusted - only the message - which had he not also listened to his spiritual instincts, and heard God's "voice,"  the spiritual message anyway, in Gehazi's message, he wouldn't have.  

And then unfortunately, the messenger stole from him later, which thank goodness Naaman never discovered, or war would've surely proceeded - but Elisha saw it, and more importantly, God saw it.

Lastly, this is the part I found the most interesting/comforting, especially in recent times, when we're witnessing Christians say and do lots of horrible things in God's name, Jesus' name, and the Holy Spirit's name. 


4)  Today, lots of people may get away with saying and doing selfish, horrible things in God's name, Jesus' name, and the holy spirit's name (which the bible says is unforgiveable blasphemy) even lifelong, and will appear to profit it from it - but God sees it and promises consequence - if not in this life, because we humans tend to reward people for it, then in the next. 




Naaman, Elisha, and Gehazi, the Parable of the Merciless Servant, Ananias and Sapphira, Nathan's prophecy to David, Christ's repeated warnings to the publicans, Pharisees and Sadducees, his warning to the wealthy man who asked how he could better serve God, and Christ tells him to abandon his wealth and power to follow him, telling him it's "easier to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" - these are all repeated warnings against valuing wealth and power (Mammon) over God, and that God typically doesn't bless people through material possessions.

No, God doesn't strike people down anymore, for doing selfish or political-power things in his name anymore, likely because if he hadn't back then, the culture and church wouldn't have continued and survived, if he hadn't - but he warns them repeatedly throughout the bible.  (It was only if his new church wouldn't have survived, in the New Testament, that he struck Ananias and Sapphira down).

We watch as people profit and gain power using Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit to do it, despite saying and doing horrible things, and wonder, "Where is God?"

Rest assured, God sees it - and they know they were warned in both the Old and New Testament against it.


Though they may appear "blessed" in this life, it's only money and power, which is typically NOT God's blessing - because again, both Old Testament and New Testament repeatedly warn us against "Mammon," which is the spirit of the love of money and power and greed and is not of God -  and also repeatedly gives us story after story that God's blessings usually come in the form of physical, mental, emotional or spiritual healing.


Regardless, the point is not what happens to them, though, God will take care of it, if not in this life, then the next - it's about what you do in this life and happens to your soul.


The point is not to lose your faith, solely based on what other Christians, Muslims, or Jews do in God's name.

And to worry about your own soul, rather than other people's - lest you become them ;)


5)  Then the obvious lesson, which is NOT to have blind faith, actually - it's to keep your spiritual instinct open for your own healing - physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual -  while still balancing your faith with your logic/science/reason.


Because Naaman was correct in his evaluation that the messenger, Gehazi, was untrustworthy - yet he was able to "hear" the spiritual message sent through him anyway.


Essentially, he balanced his logic with his spiritual instinct, took the spiritual lesson crux out of it he needed, and left the rest.




Also, he took good medicine and advice (likely sulfur in the stinky Jordan River which cures leprosy), even if he didn't understand it, not even Elisha understood how or why it worked, and even though it was delivered in an untrustworthy package - trusting there was good reason for it ;)

I'm not saying this last part is a pro-vaccination message, but I'm not saying it's not, either ;)

I'm just saying not to dismiss the balance of science AND faith, sometimes coming in imperfect packages, that is required for your own blessing, which usually comes in the form of healing - physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual - rather than money or power ;)


And in the end, God doesn't always rescue, in fact it's rare. 

God especially may not rescue you out of messes you chose against your better judgment to trust or get involved in  - but it has been my experience, if you use your free will to go against your better judgment, there's not much God will do.

In the situation in the post below, I wasn't a child anymore - I made the choice to visit this person, giving them a second chance to make amends and pay for me to finish college, knowing it was against my better judgment (but also not fully trusting my own judgment).

If there is rescue, it's not usually in a dramatic form - it's sometimes a very overly coincidental red flag - like my seeing that 20/20 special literally days before that event. 

Had it not been for that, which was unusual that I even saw, I would've never put the pieces together, asked the questions I asked, and learned the truth - and would've been in a lot worse situation. 

So in the end, I am grateful for that, the timing of it - because it gave me the red flag I needed to just get out - "pull the poison arrow out and not worry about who shot it and why, just  focus on healing," as Buddha put it  :)




 


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