Monday, August 5, 2013

TIKKUN OLAM Repairing the World: A Biblical Hebraic View of All Things Renewed by Ed Nelson How desperate the futility of having fixed what was broken, only to see it break again, if not worsen, while compelled to make it right. Sometimes we may die trying. Regardless, the end of the matter is a deep, groaning frustration. In Mark 2:21, Yeshua taught a parable about repairing things by patchwork. He said: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. King Solomon wrote in the Tanakh (Old Testament): “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vapor and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). A Torn World What is this unrelenting force of chaos in the created order that breaks things down? Why does decay continue unabated in spite of our best efforts to overcome it? Darkenly within human nature we find it as well trying to break us and others down. Despite our best and noblest efforts to resist, restrain, temper and fix the gravitational tendency towards darkness, disorder and chaos in our world, why do the best and noblest of efforts to repair or fix it ultimately seem to yield and succumb to it? Whatever we may term this power that unravels the world, and our world within it, we are left with a deep consciousness that an even deeper rupture of the world occurred. It happened before the first word was written and the first song sung. Our words and songs reflect this deep rupture. It is like a spiritual black hole in the universe as near as our hearts and minds that drains us of our energy, hopes and aspirations while we contend for a better life and world. According to the apostle (Heb., shaliach) Paul, we live in a suffering and groaning world: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves …” (Romans 8:22-23). We know our world is wild. Wildness is not all bad. But evil is present. Wild and Evil What is the difference between being “wild” and “evil”? Wild has the potential for destructive force, but not necessarily. Nature itself is wild, and God called it good (Genesis 1). Evil is always destructive by nature and mission. Is evil present in the world? No one can explain the world apart from some description of it as evil. Can evil be stopped and the goodness of the wild earth that is trapped in a destructive spiral be fixed? Or is it only possible to restrain evil’s ferocity to a lesser level of presence and effect? How do we restrain evil to lessen its blunt force, for how long? Why do we get tired repairing it and sometimes just give up? About the second century a concept emerged in Jewish thought that came to be described in Hebrew as tikkun olam—“repairing the world.” Tikkun Olam—“Repairing the World” The Jewish concept of tikkun olam—“repairing the world”—is admirable and a practical concept for endurance in our suffering world. The notion is highly optimistic, suggesting the world can be fixed by our mutual efforts if we work at it diligently together. In modern, kabbalistic Judaism, the concept relies solely upon human action at both the social and cosmological level to fix the world one act at a time. But is this a realistic expectation? Can we really repair the world by our efforts, even if just one act at a time? We can change a failed light bulb and replace it with another, but only for a time before it fails. We can do home improvements, but they, too, will have to be done again at a later time since things wear out. We can fix a broken relationship, but new threats will emerge. Marriages left to themselves without intentional repairs time to time will drift apart. All things tend towards decay. Even the very sub-atomic nature of the world is entrapped in what is called “a half-life.” Decay is natural for our world. All things are affected. If all the peoples of all the nations at one given moment acted together to resist, restrain and overcome evil in one concerted effort, would evil be gone from the wild earth? Put all the broken shards of human experience, pain, suffering and evil in one basket and cast them away into deep space for all eternity, would the problem of evil be solved? If we cannot answer this positively, then all the single acts to fix the world, as Solomon said, are but “vapor.” The answer, of course, is no. Neither a string of single acts ad infinitum, nor the sum total of all acts simultaneously in concert to fix the world will succeed. If history counts, then, as Jesus (Yeshua) said, the world will be characterized by wars and rumors of wars, kingdoms against kingdoms, nations against nations, earthquakes, pestilences, famine, false prophets, false messiahs, fear, terror and the rise of lawlessness as the world continues in its disturbing warp (cf. Matthew 24; Luke 21). Nevertheless, trying to restrain evil manifested in its myriad ways and to work for justice and fairness is worthy of our lives. We feed the poor, care for the needy, right the injustices, protect innocents and defend the cause of the weak and powerless. Life spent this way is worth the living. But at the end of our lives, the poor, needy and weak will still be with us. Injustices will reprise. Systems will remain or be renewed that dehumanize. All things will continue to make the dread swirl around the life-taking black hole of darkness, destruction and death. The evil rupture in creation and humanity is too deep, the chasm too expansive for us to fix alone or together. The world itself needs redemption and renewing that we cannot give it. We need help beyond ourselves, beyond the created order. Are we Doomed? The writer of Ecclesiastes reflected that the sum of all human efforts to make the world right and free from evil and injustice is futility and meaningless except to “fear God and keep his commandments … For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14). For King Solomon this is “the conclusion of the matter” (v.13). In spite of the sentiment of Ecclesiastes, can the wild world where evil is leveraged fatally against it be fixed if help comes beyond the created order? Can it be repaired? Can it be undone or reversed? What a marvelous thought if it is true. If our efforts to repair and fix the world on a permanent basis are futile, then what role should we take? Is it not then a matter of us simply restraining the world from lawlessness, disorder, decay and chaos? At best, our fixing the world becomes temporary fixes. Does not the answer lie, not in patchwork repairs only, but in the constant act of restraining darkness and evil? Overcoming darkness and evil is best done in society by just laws and order. Restraint of lawlessness emphasizes justice and fairness. Good rules establish the boundaries for civil life. Boundary breakers suffer penalties. Penalties, in turn, act as deterrents to restrain criminal and civil offenses and evil. Lawlessness unchecked yields tyranny and terror. Anarchy is the natural impulse of lawless people. The judicial process to restrain evil forces and acts causes weariness and suffering for the victims of injustice. What is left unrestrained and unattended returns to the wild where lawlessness is bred. A garden left unattended always returns to the wild. Nature is wild. The Creator and his Decaying World At the end of the matter, only Yahweh can restore or renew his decaying world warped by evil. Our best efforts leave things undone. In all our fixes, we tend to always fail to remove the potential forces of tomorrow that undo the just and right of today. Like the latest release of a computer software program becomes subject to unanticipated security vulnerabilities, periodic “fixes” to so-called “bugs” are required to keep the software reliable and secure. Likewise, we constantly must attend to life and the world after we fix the last problem. For evil has a way to exploit other unanticipated vulnerabilities in the stretched-thin fabric of humanity. Yahweh created all things. In Him lies the capacity and ability to change creation and mankind and make it whole. In Isaiah 42:16, the prophet spoke the words of Yahweh regarding those who were spiritually blind in a world of disorder and darkness: “I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone [azav – abandoned, undone, failed].” Again, the prophet Isaiah affirms the word of Yahweh: “Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of my hand. I act and who can reverse [shuv – “turn back, return, reverse”] it?” (Isaiah 43:13) Granted, only He can perform the ultimate and final tikkun olam—“repairing the world.” Meanwhile we weather this transitional time of decay, acting to restrain the advance of evil while advancing the consciousness and receptivity of the kingdom of God. As Jesus (Yeshua) said: “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:13). Is Tikkun Olama Valid Concept? Tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) is not valid as defined by kabbalistic Judaism. The visionary hope for a world at peace and in full lawful order achieved by a series of human acts at the social and cosmological level to “repair the world” is never going to happen. What is broken cannot fix what is broken. Deep change may be desired, but deep frustration results. But this Hebrew phrase is not invalid when understood in light of the kingdom of God revealed in Messiah Jesus (Yeshua). The kingdom of God has two phases: (1) the receiving of it now through faith in the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua) who offers it to everyone and (2) the ultimate receiving of it at its full installation at the end-time event of Messiah’s second coming. In this sense, the tikkun olam was initiated by Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth at his first coming. The New Testament (Brit Chadashah) tells the story in its full setting. At his first coming, the kingdom of Yahweh was offered through repentance from sins and reception of Jesus (Yeshua) as Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. The kingdom of God is hidden from the world but abides in those who receive the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua) by the Holy Spirit of Yahweh. In 2 Corinthians 4:1-7, the apostle (shaliach) Paul explains this awesome installment of the kingdom of God in us now who believe in and receive Him into their hearts: We do not lose heart… For we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he further comments about the present nature of things decaying, even our bodies, but within the context of the good news of the kingdom of God within us: Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. This helps us gain understanding of how the hidden kingdom of God is displayed now on earth as well as its future manifestation in Messiah Jesus (Yeshua). In a world filled with sorrow, abandonment and hopelessness, this tight, little Hebrew phrase—tikkun olam—is a priceless treasure. How Should We Live Then? Our world is frustrating and frustrated. How, then, should we act in our torn, decaying world under evil influence and activity? For sure, we do not ignore it. Nor do we retreat from the challenges these negative activities present. We stand and resist, like prophets of old, restraining these forces and influences on society and the human condition. We see these as a spiritual condition of darkness, decay, destruction and death. An ultimate spiritual solution is required, one that only Yahweh can bring to pass. Since Yahweh has initiated the offer of his kingdom through Messiah Jesus (Yeshua), we begin there by receiving Him by faith and repentance. Once we’ve made this choice and embraced the kingdom message we rely on the Spirit of Messiah we’ve received to teach us how to live now a life worthy of the kingdom of heaven. We trust Him to empower us to walk in faith, representing and anticipating the fullness of his kingdom to come at the Messiah’s second coming. We obey the commandments of God to love Him and to love others as ourselves. We work against the spoils of evil by performing righteous acts of social responsibility. We feed the poor, care for the needy, uplift the weak, defend the innocent, comfort the hurting, and work for justice and fairness. In all these things we commit to do is the encouragement, comfort and promise that all things one day will be better when Jesus (Yeshua) comes again. As is our heavenly Father, so should we be who embrace the message of his kingdom in Messiah Jesus (Yeshua). We should imitate Yahweh’s compassion and justice. Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 25:4) describes how Yahweh acts within our present reality: “For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat.” By imitating Yahweh in the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua), we participate in his work by repairing the world now. Yet we understand that all we do at best is patch it up for a later, ultimate day when Yahweh will repair it forever. He will renew all things. Isaiah announces this day and what will happen: He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord Yahweh will wipe tears away from all faces. And He will remove the reproach of his people from all the earth. For Yahweh has spoken. This is the ultimate tikkun olam we await while working for temporary improvements in the world condition today.