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Challenging God: Why Did Jonah Run?
Video 4 of 6
What does truth look like when it is reflected in the real world? For every act; there is a consequence. This equation, we might call justice . Newton expressed this Third Law of Motion - ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. If one billiard ball hits another billiard ball , the second billiard ball is going to move. And for every consequence there is an act, the second billiard ball doesn’t move unless it gets hit. This is what truth looks like in the real world.
It turns out that justice is a religious concept as well. When most people talk about why it is that they are attracted to religion, people will talk about “God is love”. “Spirituality”. “Prayer”. “Devotion”. “Community”. There is very few people that will say “ you know what I like about religion- justice! Ah -nothing like seeing the divine court of justice in action!” Very few of us are attracted to religion that way. But interestingly, justice is a very, very important concept within Judaism - there is a whole segment of the calendar devoted to it- the yemei hadin - “ The Days of Justice”. Rosh HaShanah is known as the yom hadin - “The Day of Justice”. How do we approach that day? I think most of us, me included, approach that day with a great deal of trepidation. The notion of ‘God sitting on a throne of justice and judging people’ is not very attractive. But I think in order to really appreciate Judaism fully, we have to ask ourselves “ is there some sort of positive way that we can relate to din? Can we actually get anything out of it spiritually or is it just something that we have to endure?”
I think there is actually something we can get out of it. Rosh Hashanah - this Day of din is actually a day that we celebrate. We wear nice clothes, we feast on delicious foods, we celebrate on this Day of din. What a strange reaction to justice. What is nourishing about divine justice? I think Jonah, the son of Truth, is asking us to take a hard look at that question.
So to try to get at that, I want to propose two kind of thought experiments with you; experiments that ask you to imagine a world in which divine justice was compromised in some way.
So here is experiment number one. Imagine for a moment, it’s after one hundred and twenty years, your time on earth is up, your soul approaches the gates of heaven . Now, I want to give you two possible scenarios and you pick which scenario you would prefer.
Scenario #1 : - you were met by an Angel who is handling crowd control at the gates of Heaven and the Angel is really apologetic. He explains to you that their whole system has gotten really overwhelmed and the Almighty simply can’t be bothered to spare anytime to talk with you just now. So the Angel kind of take a quick look at you, offers you a set up in the Mezzanine level of Heaven - you can hang out there for all eternity. That is scenario #1.
And here is scenario #2:- God, as the Master of the Universe, your Creator,the Almighty himself, sits down with you and goes over your whole life from the first time that you learned to walk, to the time that you defended your friend from a bully in seventh grade, to the time you watched your own children learned how to walk, and you walked your own children down to the chuppah; you feel a tremendous amount of pride. God cares and is so proud of you for all that. But you also see moments you failed, moments you yelled at our kids and it wasn’t their fault . When you’re unsure on sukkot, and instead of davening you’re thinking of the World Series; and these moments are embarrassing, they are painful. But this is your life, with its good and it’s bad and all of it’s rich colours and all of it’s years. The joy you feel is ecstatic; but disappointment is searing. But God through your life and shows you his view of it. You see the grand significance of your life in God’s eyes. Why your life mattered to God; why it mattered to those around you. The second involves divine justice, the first no justice at all. Which would you want?
I have to confess, I would prefer the first! You know, happy to just take the pass God, you know, seat me in the Mezzanine level, I’m totally good. The notion of divine justice is scary, but I would like to be the kind of person that would like to choose the second. Because the second, even if involves pain, means my life really meant something. And in the first, the question I am left to wonder is “did it matter?” - I spent sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety years doing my best and this is it? To be seated at the Mezzanine level with peanut shell beneath my feet? I feel so alone. I feel like “ what did it all mean? Why did I bother so much?” There is something hollow about option #1. Din - “justice”- lends a kind of meaning to life because everything matters; because I see how every act had consequences and how consequence didn’t come out of nowhere, but my actions created them;they made a difference in the world.
And here is thought experiment #2. God forbid, but imagine that someone really close to you, a child, a sister, a brother - the victim of a terrible crime, the victim of something truly horrible at the hand of a brash and malicious attacker. Trial begins and then one day, the judge calls you into his chambers and I want you to imagine the following nightmare scenario.
The judge says “look, I’ve talked with the defendant.I just had to tell you, I think this show trial has gone on long enough; this whole media circus, we just have to call it to a close. I’ve spoken with the defendant, he is willing to come by your home for a Brandy one night; he is going to offer you his apologies for what may or may not have occurred on the night of May 12th. I would like you to call a press conference and just dismiss all the charges ; it’s time to let bygones be bygones and moves.” If the judge said that to you, how would you want to respond? If you are like me, it would be a terrible nightmare but it’s not the most terrible nightmare. There is actually an even worst nightmare. It’s exactly the same as the situation we just described with only one difference - the identity of the judge; it’s not a human judge anymore - it’s God.
Let’s come back and imagine the situation.
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