Pluto

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Being a Prophet

In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it— at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.

Then the LORD said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, ‘See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?’ ” (Isaiah 20:1-6)

Being a prophet is not the glamorous job a lot of people imagine it to be. Sure, it might be nice to have a direct line to God, but on the downside, he doesn’t always call at convenient times. And what he wants you to say is rarely going to be popular or win friends. Certainly you won’t get rich off it; in fact, it is unlikely to be beneficial to your life at all if you’re thinking only in terms of being comfortable.

Israel relied on Egypt to protect them from Assyria. God wanted to show Israel that this was a mistake: Egypt wouldn’t even be able to protect itself from the Assyrians, let alone do anything to help Israel. Trusting in everything and everyone but God would prove embarrassing. The Egyptians would see exile, and those who witnessed it would see more than they bargained for.

God recognized that giving speeches was not the only way to communicate. There was also storytelling, acting, and art. So Isaiah got to be a living parable to illustrate the message God wanted to get across. God was good at communicating and he knew how to get an audience’s attention. Having Isaiah run around without clothes certainly got people’s attention—especially since he did it for three years. Why so long? Perhaps, like any other message, even a naked prophet tended to get ignored. We don’t always like to listen to God, no matter how well he tells the story.

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Listen

“But no, my people wouldn’t listen.
Israel did not want me around.
So I let them follow their own stubborn desires,
living according to their own ideas.
Oh, that my people would listen to me!
Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths!
How quickly I would then subdue their enemies!
How soon my hands would be upon their foes!
Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him;
they would be doomed forever.
But I would feed you with the finest wheat.
I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock.” (Psalm 81:11-16)

Sometimes when you can’t get something to work, it’s because you chose to ignore the instructions. Like the child who tells his father when he tries to help that “I can do it myself” just before he or she makes a mess of things, so in life it is all too easy to decide we don’t need to pay attention to what God told us. Our circumstances are different, this is special, we know better, times are different now; the excuses are endless and always the same. As are the results.

God hadn’t been silent; he’d sent his prophets to the Israelites. Before that, he had sent Moses who gave them a contract and laid out quite clearly and precisely what God expected. It wasn’t complicated: love God, love people. But people had better ideas, they thought, of what was best for their lives, what would bring them real happiness in contrast to what they imagined God was going to give them. So God sat back and let them have their way, knowing that sooner or later they would recognize their mistake and come back to him. And he’d be there waiting. He made us free to do as we please. But he knows that sooner or later we’ll decide to do as he pleases. God is patient and can out-wait anyone.

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Proofs

Doubting the existence of God is akin to doubting the existence of one’s wife or children.

What if I suffered from untreated chronic mild depression? It is chronic, in that it doesn’t ever go away entirely, but mild in the sense that I suffer no physical symptoms: many people with more severe forms of depression suffer from odd pains and illnesses. Additionally, severe depression is usually characterized by an inability to function. I suffer no physical pains or illnesses. I’m quite healthy. And I continue to function, even in social settings. However, I do tend to be withdrawn.

The other odd aspect to my depression is the regular feeling I have that my wife and children do not love me or even like me, that in fact they would prefer not to have to be around me. More generally, I am convinced that I have no friends and I believe without a doubt that people would prefer I not talk to them or interact with them in any way. I therefore tend not to talk to anyone unless they talk to me first and then I limit my conversation to simply responding to what they have asked in as few words as possible.

I am convinced that I am a failure and a loser.

My beliefs, most people would say, lack objective evidence, but no evidence that people may bring to bear to try to dissuade me from my point of view will have any effect on my core belief. I can find explanations and evidences to explain away anything they tell me that would seem to contradict my core beliefs.

While it is ludicrous to imagine that one’s wife or children don’t exist, or contrariwise to respond when something happens that, “so my wife does exist after all,” for instance if I discover supper has been prepared for me or my clothes have mysteriously appeared in my drawers all clean and folded, it is equally as ludicrous to harbor such thoughts regarding God. To think that he needs to be proven to exist is silly and even more silly—or sad—is to imagine that he doesn’t exist. Just as my belief that I have no friends or family is irrational, the product of my mental illness, so the Bible comments that those who disbelieve in God are “fools.” It is no different than not believing in your neighbor. And since it would be very peculiar to develop philosophical “proofs” for the existence of your wife—say a teleological, ontological, first cause and the like for her—so I would argue it is equally as silly, and equally as much a waste of time and energy as it is for someone to try to prove God’s existence. You’ll no more convince skeptics that you’re right than you’ll be able to convince me that anyone gives a damn about me. And those that believe in God, like those who believe they have friends, don’t need any convincing. You already know it.

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Theodicy Thoughts

I assume that God is good, loving and powerful. This leads to the thought that if that is God’s nature, then wouldn’t any universe he created be the best possible?

But if that’s the case, then why is there suffering?

A standard answer is that suffering is inevitable if God makes us free, rather than not, since freedom to choose means that it is possible for us to choose poorly. Which we have.

This implies then that God thinks freedom is more important than us being good, since all the evil and suffering of history is the consequence of the freedom to choose.

If we say that suffering and evil are a necessary consequence of freedom, and that God values freedom so much that all of human history was worth it, then how can we explain Heaven? That is, if freedom is precious to God, and this is the best of all possible worlds given the existence of free will, then what the hell is Heaven? Doesn’t Heaven, by its very nature, suggest that this world then actually isn’t the best of all worlds? It could be better. It could be Heaven. And since this current world isn’t Heaven, then what is God playing at? Why didn’t God make Heaven to begin with? Why this world as a trial run?

One possibility: Heaven is a consequence of this world and can only exist as an effect. That is, Heaven is not possible without the world as it is.

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God Speaks

The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken,
And summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God has shone forth.
May our God come and not keep silence;
Fire devours before Him,
And it is very tempestuous around Him.
He summons the heavens above,
And the earth, to judge His people:
“Gather My godly ones to Me,
Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens declare His righteousness,
For God Himself is judge. (Psalm 50:1-6)

Just because someone talks, doesn’t mean anyone is listening. It is easy for people to not notice that God is speaking, or to misunderstand him, or to explain him away. Sometimes what God says is not what we want to hear; so it is easy, at such a moment, to decide that we didn’t hear anything at all.

Human failure to pay attention or to believe what we heard, or to properly understand what we heard does not prevent God from communicating with us. God has ways of getting our attention. He is also patient and is willing to repeat himself until we get it.

The time when human beings are least likely to hear what God says is when everything is falling apart. It’s during the dark times, when all seems lost, when people are dying and suffering, that people are most tempted to believe that God has gone silent, that prayers are going unheard, that maybe God is not there or doesn’t care.

But through four hundred years of slavery, God heard every cry, noticed every wince of pain, and he finally answered those prayers and spoke clearly through Moses. Was the lack of Moses for four hundred years indicative of God’s lack of care or his silence? Of course not. God was still there, God was still speaking. He walked beside every slave, he whispered encouragement to every struggling individual, whether that person understood or knew God was speaking. God’s words had their impact and kept him going, even when he seemed most alone and abandoned. We do not get up every morning and face each day, and find ourselves at last in bed at the end, without having experienced the word of God in our lives all day, whether we noticed or not.

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Strings

Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The LORD shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.” (Psalm 2:1-6)

Those strings that you think are marionette strings—those strings that are making you do stuff that you think you don’t want to do—how do you know they aren’t really the strings of a parachute? It might not be so wise to cut them.

People wanted to break free from what they perceived to be God’s unreasonable demands. God’s response was derisive laughter. How come? Because God’s demands were not unreasonable, unless they found a parachute strapped to their back, or a seat belt across their lap and shoulders too restraining. The so called constraints were hardly that: they existed for their benefit. They made life better, not worse. They maximized pleasure, rather than restricting it.

Some people decided to reject God because they thought he stood in the way of human pleasure. Only after they burned themselves out, like the prodigal son, would they come to realize that perhaps the “old man” wasn’t so stupid after all and may have been telling them stuff for their own good, that could have saved them a lot of pain along the way.

God loves us and wants what is best for us. God is also very smart and knows a lot. But too often we’d rather listen to ourselves, or other people, who know next to nothing. We find it hard to believe that God really loves us and knows what is best—knows even better than we know ourselves.

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In Control?

When do mountain goats
and deer give birth?
Have you been there
when their young are born?
How long are they pregnant
before they deliver?
Soon their young grow strong
and then leave
to be on their own.
Who set wild donkeys free?
I alone help them survive
in salty desert sand.
They stay far from crowded cities
and refuse to be tamed.
Instead, they roam the hills,
searching for pastureland.
Would a wild ox agree
to live in your barn
and labor for you?
Could you force him to plow
or to drag a heavy log
to smooth out the soil?
Can you depend on him
to use his great strength
and do your heavy work?
Can you trust him
to harvest your grain
or take it to your barn
from the threshing place? (Job 39:1-12)

We don’t have as much control over our own lives as we think. We cannot control the day of our birth, or the day of our death. We have no power over the forces of nature: rain or drought, storm or earthquake, illness or health. But we’d like to be in control.

God confronted Job with how little he controlled about his life. He couldn’t make wild animals domesticated. He couldn’t breed them or take their offspring for food or sacrifice. He couldn’t rely on them to help him with his harvests.

Job’s friends believed that good things came to the good and bad to the bad. How people behaved determined the outcome of their lives. It was all up to them. That’s why they insisted that Job had to be bad. If instead, the circumstances of life were not dependent upon their choices of behavior, that meant that they couldn’t prevent bad things from happening to them. It was in God’s hands, not theirs. They didn’t like that. And really, Job didn’t like it either. He—and his friends—trusted his life in his own hands more than in God’s. Which God pointed out to him was both silly and foolish. Whose hands were better? Job, who knew and understood little, or God, who knew and understood everything? So what if Job didn’t understand why the bad stuff had happened to him? Job didn’t understand a lot of things. So what else was new?

Our desire to control and manipulate our environment leads us to absurdities. We become superstitious, imagining that certain rituals, certain objects, can somehow allow us to control those things that we otherwise cannot.

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Memories

During the summers of 1976 and 1977 I worked on a kibbutz in Israel (between semesters in college). While I worked in the fields the radio was always tuned to one station: “The Voice of Peace.” The on-air slogan was “From somewhere in the Mediterranean, we are the Voice of Peace.” It was very popular in Israel back then; it seemed as if that was the only radio station I ever heard while I was on there. Since it was sort of a pirate station, it was broadcasting from a ship, and hence the statement that they were coming from “somewhere in the Meditteranean.”

Now they have a Facebook page and stream online:

www.thevoiceofpeace.co.il

Wikipedia’s description of the station:

The aim of the Voice of Peace, rumoured to have been established with money from John Lennon, was to communicate peaceful co-existence to the volatile Middle East. The output was popular music presented by mostly British DJs broadcasting live from the ship. The main on-air studio consisted of a Gates Diplomat mixer, Technics SL-1200 turntables, Sony CD Players, and Gates NAB cartridge machines, on which the jingles and commercials were played. The second studio, for production, had a Gates turntable, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and an NAB cartridge recording unit.

Voice of Peace was Israel’s first offshore pop station and the first commercially-funded private operation. The station’s American PAMS, CPMG, JAM, and TM Productions jingles, English-speaking DJs, and Top 40 hits attracted sponsors such as TWA and Coca Cola. Initially, the station transmitted on 1539 AM (announced as 1540 AM) and in 1980 added a signal at 100.0 FM….

The Voice of Peace was primarily in English, but a small output included Hebrew, Arabic, and French. Several shows ran for nearly its entire life, including Twilight Time (daily at 18:00, using the Platters hit of the name as its theme), the Classical Music Programme (daily from 19:30), and Late Night Affair (00.00-03.00).

The telephone forum chaired by Abie Nathan called “Kol Ha Lev” (Voice of the Heart) and then Ma La’asot? (?מה לעשות, “What to do?”) was the only uncensored direct public dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Voice of Peace was tolerated by the Israeli Government, as Abie Nathan was a personality in the country; however the IBA was alarmed at its popularity and set about a state-run pop service, Reshet Gimel, in May 1976. Nathan was imprisoned on several occasions for violating laws forbidding contact with enemy states and the PLO.

I found out about the station’s revival as an online streaming service when someone posted a link to their Facebook page on the Facebook page of the kibbutz I worked on so long ago. It brings back a lot of memories.

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