I’m writing a fantasy, but my MC is from the contemporary world (who then travels to the fantasy world). …I was wondering how a relatively normal, modern girl would develop a fighting style … without just instantly being good at it for the sake of the plot. She’s also not combat trained, since I figured that would be a little too convenient. I want her to be a normal girl who has to grind her way through the fighting side of things, and who uses her resourcefulness to balance out her shortcomings when it comes to being untrained.
I had an idea that perhaps she has some sort of talent that she could adapt INTO a fighting style throughout the course of the story. Perhaps she’s trained in some form of fan dancing and gymnastics, as I like the idea of something “feminine” like dancing being incorporated into combat. However, in my research I haven’t been able to find a fan dancing technique that I felt could work. They seemed a little too slow. At the moment, I’m considering baton twirling. The fast movement of the batons seems to fit with how I see my MC wielding her two weapons. …
I guess I’m wondering if you’d buy the logical leap of my protagonist using her baton experience (or fan dancing, whichever I go with) to inspire her combat in the fantasy world.
Don’t make her a Mary Sue, a female character who is instantly good at everything. That’s why everyone hated Rey in the Star Wars sequels. If she has no training in combat, she needs training, pure and simple. As for incorporating dance or gymnastics, I like that idea (not necessarily fan dancing). If she has baton training, she could make that work to her advantage, but again with training and practice.
Have her go through the training and make mistakes. Maybe early on she tries to use her dancing/gymnastics, and her teachers beat her easily. She goes through training in standard combat. As she masters that, she finds ways to incorporate her other skills. I would recommend reading about Arya in Game of Thrones. In the first book she is given a sword teacher from Braavos, a people known for their “dancing style” of swordsmanship.
Mary Sue vs. Strong Female Character
There is a difference between a strong female character and a Mary Sue. It’s fine to have a woman who is strong, tough, and/or exceptionally talented in some ways. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2 and Princess Leia I think are two great examples of that. Arya was a great character in Game of Thrones at first. But as the show went off the rails in the end, so did she.
I gave a hint above on how to avoid making her a Mary Sue. Have her go through training and struggle to master the fighting techniques she needs. Have her lose to her instructors and other students in practice. Give her a reason to persist no matter how hard it gets. Why does she want to master these weapons? The reason has to be compelling enough that she will not quit, even when everyone else thinks she should. As she masters her weapons and starts beating the other students, we’ll feel like she earned it.
If you want to know whether your character is a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, as it may be), these links will help you identify her and transform her into a character people will root for.
In a Fiction Writing Facebook group, someone was working on a novel based on the story of Naomi in the book of Ruth. If you’re not familiar with the story of Ruth, I’d recommend reading it. It’s only four chapters, and the namesake is an unusual hero in that she is a Moabite, not an Israelite. Not only that, she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. Sorry for the spoiler, but the story has been around for over 2,000 years.
Anyway, she first asked for feedback on her beginning. It promised a story where the main character changes her name twice. For those who know the story, they know the significance of the name changes and expect a story of tragic loss with healing and redemption that follows. If they don’t know the story, it might stir their curiosity. Why would she change her name twice? Either way, it’s good hook, and I told her so.
But I did not think the ending she proposed would be satisfying. Here is how she described it.
This is historical biblical fiction. It’s about Naomi’s ten years in the wilderness, and written in first person. The last chapter of Call Me Mara ends with “…it was the beginning of the barley harvest” and I will encourage readers to finish the story of Naomi and Ruth in the Scriptures.
This writer wants to tell the story from Naomi’s point of view. No problem there. But she is proposing ending the story in the middle and then saying, “If you want the rest of the story, go read the Bible.”
Here is how I responded.
If this is the ending, I would feel cheated. Biblical fiction can be a great tool for getting people interested in the Bible, but it is not an excuse for doing our job halfway. You still need to give your reader a complete story. Use your storytelling skills to give them an enjoyable reading experience, and they will be more likely to follow through on your suggestion to read the Bible.
She wasn’t convinced. She said,
I just don’t want to rewrite God’s Words in my own words. Ruth 2 and beyond have already been told and I can’t improve on that. For now, this is where I feel my story ends and the Spirit takes over.
This is the dilemma for writing Biblical Fiction. It’s always “already been told.” Rewriting the Bible sounds daunting, even sacrilegious. But if you want to write Biblical Fiction, you have to make peace with that somehow. Just so you know, here is how the story would end as she proposes it.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.
Ruth and Naomi haven’t even arrived in Bethlehem yet, much less met Boaz, who becomes the kinsman-redeemer who marries Ruth, ensuring a secure future for both women. Again, sorry for the spoiler. Her version would leave all of that out.
It also does not deliver on what she promised. Her intro promises a character who changes her name twice. But if she ends the story there, we only get one name change. We get only the tragedy and miss the healing and redemption that follows. If you promise something to the reader, you need to deliver.
The Rest of the Story
But the rest of the story is in the Bible.
Then why should they read your story at all when they can read the whole thing in the Bible? Fiction when done well does not just tell a story. It gives us a chance to experience it through the character. You are not just told what happened. You feel like you are there as it happens. When you write Biblical Fiction, that is what you are promising the reader, the chance to experience the story—the whole story—with Naomi. Or whoever your character is.
If you want to write Biblical Fiction, don’t use the Bible as an excuse not to do your job. Writing fiction of any kind means creating a good story that moves the reader. I’ve read the Bible several times, but I can still appreciate a work that helps me see it in a way I had never considered. If you give them an enjoyable reading experience, they will be more likely to take your suggestion to read the Bible so they can see where your story came from. Here is how you can do that.
Be faithful to the source material. One way to look at it is the Biblical story provides you with the bricks. You use mortar to connect them. The mortar includes techniques writers use to draw the reader in, like scene setting, characterization, action, dialog, and plotting.
You are not rewriting the Bible. You are creating a new way for others to experience it.
Pick a point of view character that you connect with.
Fully imagine the character in that situation. What do they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? What is the weather like? What emotions are they going through? How do they see the world around them? In the end, what kind of transformation do they go through?
Look for ways you can fill in missing details. The Bible often leaves out the kind of details that make fiction come alive. See that as an invitation, not a restriction.
Write a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
If you would like to see some of my recommendations for Biblical Fiction done well, click here. Some of them do not actually follow rule number one. They might take a little more creative license with the story than some would like. But they do it in a way that is believable and makes you feel like you are there.
Does this come off as too much of a coincidence in my plot?
My story is a crime thriller and in it, a woman wants police protection because she knows too much about a crime, and after being interviewed at the police station, the main character detective takes her home, and she begs him to protect her, since she is in fear of harm.
He can’t do it and break protocol and is about to leave, and then he gets a call from his superior, giving him the assignment of protecting her.
But I am wondering if it comes off as too much of a coincidental convenience, that she wants something, he doesn’t give it to her, and then he gets a phone call that compels him to give to her, and thus conveniently answering her prayer in a sense?
Can you show that it is not a coincidence? If the superior orders the MC to do something against protocol, he should smell something fishy. That and the timing being just a little “too perfect” indicates the superior is watching the witness, the MC, or both. Why and how? And why did the superior not assign protection at first only to change his mind a few hours later? Is the superior being pressured by someone else? It sounds like there is something corrupt in the department that could not only explain the coincidence but drive the plot and the MC’s actions.
It turned out all my guesses were wrong. So without knowing the story, I can’t comment any further on this example. But here is a rule of thumb. If the scene unfolds this way for no reason other than you need it to, it’s too much of a coincidence.
Are we in a bear market? I asked that question when Bitcoin (BTC) dipped below $30,000 back in July last year. If so, it would have been the shortest bull market in Bitcoin’s history. It used to be you could tell by the four-year cycle. But according to the four-year cycle, the bull market should have lasted at least into September and maybe November.
Then between August and November, Bitcoin (BTC) rallied to a new all-time high (ATH) of $69,000 on November 10. Maybe the four-year cycle was back. Many experts thought it would go above 100K by the end of December. Instead, it dropped. At times it would rally but still not get anywhere near the high in November. It would drop again, and rally again. The timing, one could argue, followed the four-year cycle.
I wrote a post earlier explaining why I think the four-year cycle may be dead. If it’s not dead, it certainly does not look like anything in the past. That being said, from November on is when we would expect a bear market. It could also be because traditional markets are down, inflation, supply-chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and all of that together seems to be pointing to a recession.
I came into crypto in a bull market. Now, whatever the cause(s), it looks like I’m going through my first bear market. Strategies have to change. What do you do with your crypto in a bear market? Everyone’s situation is different, so I can’t tell you what to do. I’ll let you know what I’m doing.
Keep in mind, though, I am not a financial advisor. Everything in this article is for information or entertainment purposes only. Always do your own research.
The Bull Is in Hibernation
I’m going to skip over discussion of how the economy in general is struggling. We all know the reasons. It’s not just affecting the United States but the entire world. That obviously makes people less willing to invest in anything, so we should not be surprised at the recent downturns in traditional markets, Bitcoin, and Altcoins. Every market is affected. But there are some factors unique to Bitcoin that are affecting it on top of the general state of the economy. That is what I will focus on.
Opinions from experts vary on when the bear market started. If you believe the four-year cycle, it started on November 11. For me (in my amateur opinion), the moment I switched from “maybe” to “definitely” bear market was the recent crash of LUNA and UST. It totally wrecked some people.
But before I get into that, when people experience an extreme financial loss, their minds can go to a dark place. I don’t want to use the S-word, because some algorithms don’t like it, but it has happened with every stock market crash. If you are thinking of harming yourself, please talk to someone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. No matter how bad it looks, money can be replaced. Your life cannot. Don’t confuse your net worth with your self-worth.
I don’t mean to make anyone feel worse than they already do. But there are important lessons we can learn from this experience. I’ll talk about my experience with the Luna crash, and then get into lessons for moving forward. I think the most important lesson is you are not your money. You are not your investments. You are not your portfolio. You are a child of God, a unique human being. Don’t ever forget that.
The Fall of LUNA and UST
Terra Luna (LUNA), a recent top ten cryptocurrency, crashed. Its stablecoin, US Terra (UST), crashed with it. And when I say crashed, I mean they both went to nearly zero. Tens of billions of dollars in market capitalization just vanished in a few days. Quite a few people lost money from both LUNA and UST, because they worked in tandem. The fate of one was directly tied to the other. Some of my YouTubers are saying it was market manipulation. I can’t confirm that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Now that big money is buying crypto, manipulation is always possible. There’s another reason never to invest more than you can afford to lose.
Some people invested way too much in it, and it wrecked their portfolios. Some even lost their life savings. In a way it is understandable. Stablecoins are supposed to be the safe play, and it was possible just a month ago to get 20% interest on UST. So naturally people thought this was a safe investment with a guaranteed return of 20%. Who wouldn’t take that?
But if your portfolio got wrecked, or you lost your life savings, that means you put much more into LUNA and/or UST than you should have. But don’t despair. Whatever you lost can be replaced. You can come back stronger if you take the lessons of this experience to heart.
My Experience with LUNA
I dipped my toes into LUNA and UST. I bought LUNA at about $52. Within two weeks it was up to $92. When it reached $104, I should have sold half of it to make back my investment. Then what happened to the other half wouldn’t have hurt. Of course, if I knew what was coming I would have sold all of it.
But I not only held, I bought more, because when you see it going up like that and everyone in the crypto community is high on the project, you think it will keep going up. There was a certain minimum I wanted to have for my portfolio, and I had it. Yay!
On May 9 LUNA started crashing, from a price of $64 to now less than a penny.
It was a top 10 crypto in market capitalization. Now, I don’t know where it is in the rankings, and I don’t care. UST was put out by the same organization, Terra Luna Labs. I tried that, too.
My Experience with UST
I wanted to take advantage of the 20% return on UST, but I had to do some research to find out where and how to do it. UST is a stablecoin backed by LUNA. In case you don’t know, stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that are designed to keep their value at $1.00. They may fluctuate a fraction of a penny, or even a penny or two. But if it’s working properly, the price will always come back to $1.00. It should have been a safe play.
When I first saw LUNA and UST dropping, I did not realize how bad it was. I saw UST at $0.89, obviously much lower than it should have been.
This has been known to happen occasionally with other stablecoins, but with them it was temporary. I bought a little, figuring when it got back to a dollar, I could make some profit. But a little more research showed me just how much trouble they were in, so I sold at $0.70. Even though it was a loss of 20%, it was the right move, because UST is now trading at less than a dime.
I wasn’t able to sell my LUNA. Every time I tried, the order would not go through. That can happen in a crash, because in order to sell you need a buyer. Who wants to buy something that is dying a quick death? Keep that in mind when you do your risk evaluation.
Many crypto experts are doing autopsies on it. To listen to them now, it should have been obvious this crash was coming. However, only a handful of experts predicted this would happen. Let this be an object lesson that investment always carries some risk, so NEVER INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE.
And the problem is bigger than LUNA and UST. In the same time LUNA dropped to zero, the whole crypto market lost over $300 billion, with Bitcoin dropping 15% from before the crash.
A Little Hope
Do Kwon, the founder, is trying to fix LUNA and UST and bring it back, and he seems to want to find some way to help investors who got wrecked. That means there is still a chance people can recoup their losses and even make a profit if they are patient. But I don’t have the same confidence in him that I did before the crash. Whatever he comes up with, I will probably stay away from. But if he offers a way to reimburse some of my losses, I’ll take that. There is talk of a “new LUNA” that will include an airdrop to those held the “old LUNA” before the crash, so maybe we can still recover something.
There is one more issue I need to address. LUNA and UST may not recover, but the crypto market almost certainly will. It has survived much worse than this. What concerns me more is bad regulation that could come in the wake of this. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is calling for sweeping federal regulation of stablecoins. SEC Chairman Gary Ginsler wants to call almost every crypto a security, so he can regulate it. He has already said stablecoins are securities, which makes no sense. And of course he is in the spotlight with the SEC’s lawsuit against Ripple Labs, the creators of the XRP cryptocurrency. The uncertainty around what’s coming makes me nervous.
I am not an anarchist. I don’t mind regulation. Like most people in the crypto community, I just want clarity, fairness, and common sense. Given the track records of Yellen, Congress, and especially Ginsler, I don’t have much confidence that is what we’ll get.
An Ounce of Prevention
Before investing in anything, here are a few rules to remember.
First, recognize that is a risky game to begin with. Before you invest in anything, ask yourself, am I okay if this goes to zero? With each Altcoin, the chance of going to zero varies. I think Bitcoin has been around long enough that the chance of it going to zero is virtually nil. But even with Bitcoin I ask myself that before I buy. If the answer is no, that means I’m investing more than I can afford to lose. Either spend less or move on to something else.
Second, you can protect yourself by taking profit, meaning when you have a chance to sell at a decent profit, take it. Between September 2020 and April 2021, I was able to let my Altcoins double in value, then sell half. That way I recovered my investment, and whatever I could gain after that was gravy. That is pretty easy in a bull market. But in a bear market, you may need to think in terms of 10, 20, or 30% profit.
Third, use stop-losses. If you don’t know what that means, it means you need to educate yourself before you even think about investing.
Fourth, NEVER INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE.
Fifth, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Professionals tell you to diversify your portfolio, and that goes for crypto, too. Putting all your money into one or two Altcoins is like putting it all into lottery tickets.
Help! My Crypto Is Down!
Even if you take those steps, at some point your crypto will go down in value. You have three choices:
Sell at a loss.
Hold until the market goes up again.
Trade for a better crypto.
Let’s talk about each of them.
Sell at a Loss
Sometimes that is your best option. For Bitcoin, I think holding is usually the right move, unless you need to pay some bills (not financial advice). But with Altcoins, you need to be ready to sell. I learned the hard way “hodling” is for Bitcoin, not Altcoins (with maybe a few exceptions). From now on, I’m taking profits when I can. And if that Altcoin turns out to be a Sh*tcoin, go ahead and take the loss.
It was no fun selling my UST at a 20% loss, but it was absolutely the right move, especially considering it’s trading at less than a dime now. I would gladly have sold my LUNA at any price, but now it’s totally worthless.
Professional investors have this already built into their strategy. When they take a chance on a risky investment, they put in a stop-loss. That means you can set it up where if the price drops, say, 20%, it will sell automatically. That will keep you from getting wrecked.
Selling at a loss is no fun, but sometimes it is better to cut your losses than stay in a sinking ship.
Hold until the Market Goes up Again
There are nearly 20,000 Altcoins listed on coinmarketcap.com. Many if not most will not survive the bear market. The few that do, however, will gain more than BTC, simply because they are smaller and have more room to grow. Knowing that makes people sometimes hang on to losing Altcoins longer than they should. Myself included.
I am holding (or “hodling”) my Bitcoin no matter what happens. Except if the price goes above 100K, I might sell a small percentage, because you always need cash. I believe Bitcoin has the fundamentals to survive the bear market and take off again in the next bull market. That is also true of a few Altcoins. There are a few I’m holding on to, even though my investments currently are in the red. If I need the cash, I might sell to pay bills and wait to re-invest when I’m better situated financially. This bear market is likely to last for a while, so if it’s a good project, you will get another chance.
It’s okay to sell your Altcoins, whether to take profit or cut your losses. But if your research tells you the project is solid and a good long-term investment, it’s okay to hold too.
Trade for a Better Crypto (or Other Investment)
Everything in the crypto market went south between May and July of last year. It caught me by surprise. According to the four-year cycle, we should have still been in a bull market. I had small investments in probably twenty different Altcoins. Bitcoin dipped hard in May because of FUD from Elon Musk, and my Altcoins dipped shortly after. I was looking at selling everything at a loss.
With most of them, instead of selling I traded them for Bitcoin. All those investments had lost value relative to the dollar. But Bitcoin rose and fell in tandem with them, so their value relative to Bitcoin was still roughly the same. It didn’t feel like a loss because of that, and because when Bitcoin pumped again, I recovered those losses. Well, I would have if I had sold. More on that in another post.
That looks like the situation we’re in now as well. There is always some risk. But in a bear market, I’ll take my chances with Bitcoin over any Altcoin. It has been around for thirteen years, longer than any other crypto. It has seen multiple bull markets, bear markets, and black swan events, and it is still here. Even when it dumps, it dumps less than Altcoins. It is the most secure network anyone has ever built. No one who has ever bought and held for at least four years has lost money. How many investments can say that? In fact, I am almost to the point where I’ll take my chances with Bitcoin over any other investment period.
So if your Altcoins have lost their shine, I always think trading for Bitcoin is a good move (Again, not financial advice).
Moving from Risk-on to Risk-off
Also in a bear market, you need to be more conservative with your investments in general. Professional traders and investors use the terms risk-on and risk-off. Risk-on refers to assets that are new, speculative, and could bring either great gains or big losses. In other words, risky. Risk-off refers to assets that have been time-tested, are less volatile, and likely to bring smaller gains but also smaller losses if the market goes down. Ask your financial advisor what that means in practical terms.
In a bull market, you can make great profits with risk-on investments. But in a bear market, the professionals will move their money out of risk-on investments and into either risk-off or cash. More traditional investors are selling their Bitcoin than they have in recent months, because they consider it a risk-on investment. Personally, I would call BTC a risk-off investment (for reasons stated above), but I’m not a professional. Talk to a financial advisor about it first and do your own research.
But traditional investors moving away from BTC is another indication we have entered a bear market, so you may want to consider stocking up on more traditional investments for now. We are likely in for a rough few months. Crypto Jebb saw a bear flag formation on the charts that could mean BTC is going down to $20,000. You don’t have to know what that means.
Just know that it’s possible. In the past, BTC has dropped as much as 85% from previous highs during bear markets. We saw a high of $69,000 November. A drop of 85% would take it to $10,350. All of that to say even though the price has stabilized for now, we may not have seen the bottom yet. Add to that the challenges of inflation, the supply chain issues, whales possibly manipulating the markets, the war in Ukraine, regulatory uncertainty, and a natural bear market on top of that means, well, I don’t know what it means, but it won’t be good most likely. If nothing else, I think we can still count on another bull market after the next BTC halving, which is estimated to take place in May, 2024.
But just as bull markets present opportunities that don’t exist in bear markets, bear markets present opportunities that don’t exist in bull markets.
The Silver Lining
The silver lining of any bear market is that if you can identify good long-term investments, now is a time to buy the dip. Back in October and the beginning of November, people were saying, “I wish Bitcoin would dip, so I could buy some.” What do you think this is? Bitcoin is settled at about $30,000 for now. That is over 50% off from the previous high of $69,000. If that’s not a dip, what is? But remember, only buy if you are not going to need the money any time soon. It could be a while before the bull market returns.
But what if it goes down further?
Buy it again. (Not financial advice). As Warren Buffett says, “Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.” In other words, sell when most people are buying. Buy when most people are selling. Of course, that only applies to long-term investments. If you think BTC is a good long-term investment, now is a great time to accumulate.
My preferred strategy for buying is dollar cost averaging (DCA). This is like if your employer offers a 401K. The best way to invest is to have it deducted from your paycheck automatically. That way, you don’t miss it. DCA works the same way. You set up with an exchange to buy automatically on a regular schedule. Some weeks it is lower, some weeks it is higher, but on average I am getting a good price.
I started with $10/week of Bitcoin. Even on a tight budget, you can probably work that out. I don’t know your situation, but there is probably something you can sacrifice to get started purchasing something for your future. Coinbase and Gemini are two exchanges that let you set up recurring buys (same as DCA). Their transaction fees are pretty high, though.
There is a service called Deltabadger that will allow you to avoid most transaction fees on your DCA. You can go on their website to see which exchanges you can work with. I use Coinbase Pro, but there are several others. If you sign up with this link, you will save 10% off your first purchase. And you don’t have to pay at all until you buy $1200 worth.
If you want a more detailed account of what happened with LUNA and UST, you can watch this.
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. How are you feeling right now? Are you hodling or selling? Which projects do you think will survive the bear market? Which ones won’t? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Hillel was a great rabbi of ancient Judaism. Scholars believe he lived sometime between 110 BC and 10 AD. He founded a school, and his name was well-known to Jews then and even today. One story says a Gentile came to Hillel and said he would convert to Judaism if he could teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the entire Torah; the rest is its interpretation. Go study” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
Can’t you see him stand on one foot, and a few seconds later, he’s like, “What just happened?” For Hillel, this is a mike drop moment, because he’s won a convert. Then eight days later, a moyle shows up to the Gentile’s house and says, “I’m here to perform your circumcision.”
Poor guy just had no idea who he was messing with when he challenged Hillel.
Don’t Do Bad = Do Good?
If you’re familiar with Hillel’s teachings, it’s obvious Jesus learned a thing or two from him. It may have influenced him when he said this: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
You probably heard this called the Golden Rule. Some people might say Jesus stole this from Hillel, but they are not exactly the same. One is stated negatively, and the other positively. One says, “Don’t do anything bad,” and the other says, “Only do good.” To not do bad, you can just stay at home watching TV. You’re not doing anything hateful to anybody. But to do good, you have to, you know, do something. It requires you to be active, not passive. Unless we’re in a pandemic. Then, staying home and not spreading it is doing good.
I’m not knocking Hillel’s way of saying it. It is likely a distillation of commandments like, “Do not kill; do not steal; do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Is it hateful to you if someone steals from you or lies about you (especially in court) or kills you? Then don’t do it to another. If you manage to get through life without doing anything harmful to anyone, you have done very well.
But in my view, you really can’t say anyone stole this idea, because it shows up in every major religion. Some express it negatively, and some express it positively, but all of them have this concept of treating others the way you want to be treated.
By <a href=”//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Boyd_Reimer” title=”User:Boyd Reimer”>Boyd Reimer</a> – <span class=”int-own-work” lang=”en”>Own work</span>, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Many Religions, One Golden Rule
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you (Mahabharata 5:1517).
Buddhism: Do not offend others, as you would not want to be offended (Udana Varga 5.18).
Taoism: The successes of your neighbor and their losses will be to you as if they were your own (T’ai Shan Kan Ying P’ien 13:18).
Confucianism: Is there any rule that one should follow all of one’s life? Yes. The rule of the Gentle Goodness: That which we do not wish to be done to us, we do not do to others (Analects 15:24).
Islam: None of you shall be true believers unless you wish for your brother the same that you wish for yourself (An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13).
Sikhism: I am a stranger to no one, and no one is a stranger to me. I am a friend to all (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1299).
Baha’i: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid on you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself (Baha’ullah, Gleanings 66:8).
Zoroastrianism: Do not unto others whatever is injurious to yourself (Shayast na-Shayast 13:29).
Jainism: One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated (Mahavira, Sutrakritanga 1.11.33).
Unitarian Universalism: [We affirm and promote] the inherent worth and dignity of every person (First Principle; cf. Second through Fourth Principles).
Stoicism: “Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you” (Seneca, Letter 47).
Native American: We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive (Chief Dan George).
One Rule to Follow
I want you to notice not just that this idea appears in every religion but how important they say it is. Confucius said it is the one rule you should always follow. The Hadith says you are not a true believer unless you follow this rule. The Mahabharata says it is the sum of duty. Hillel said it is the entire Torah, and Jesus said it is the Law and the Prophets.
You might be thinking it can’t really be that simple. All of these religious texts have a lot more commands than just “treat others the way you want to be treated.” But do they assign the same importance to the other commands as this one? Hillel said, this is the Torah. Everything else is interpretation. In other words, everything else in the sacred texts is there to teach you how to treat others the way we want to be treated.
Why do we need to be taught? This rule is as simple as it gets. Yes, it’s simple but not easy. If everyone followed that rule, we wouldn’t need 99% of the rules and laws we have, religious or secular. But as Paul said, laws increased because transgressions increased. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not commit adultery. Do not covet what is your neighbor’s. Do not take a bribe. Do not commit fraud. Do not take away food, clothing, shelter, water, medical care, or any basic necessity someone needs to live. If we all just treated everyone else the way we want to be treated, we wouldn’t need any of those laws, because we wouldn’t do those things.
But people’s selfish desires compete with the Golden Rule. So every society and every religion creates more laws to identify transgressions. But it all starts with the Golden Rule. Every major religion or philosophy has recognized that is the one rule everyone needs to follow, regardless of religion, nationality, race, or politics.
Can We Start Over?
Huston Smith, a renowned scholar of world religions, once said, “If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.”
Is this not the distilled wisdom of the human race? The Golden Rule? The rule of Gentle Goodness? The sum of duty? The entire Torah and the prophets? The one rule that makes you a true believer? Treat others the way you want to be treated. You don’t even have to be part of any religion to do that. What if instead of arguing about which religion is right or wrong, we started with that?
Think about how all these different people—Buddha, Mohamed, Hillel, Moses, Zoroaster, Confucius, Jesus, and others, separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, most of whom did not know of each other—dedicated their lives to finding the best way for humans to live, and all came to the same conclusion. They may not have agreed on everything, but they did agree on this: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
What if we all worked on getting that right first? Then and only then will we talk about what makes us different. I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of world I would like to live in.
Now at the risk of contradicting myself, I believe Jesus did something with this rule that no one else did, at least as far as I can tell. That will be my next post.
Yesterday, one of my blog posts—published eight months ago—got nearly 13,000 views.
About 20% of that came from this post on Reddit, which showed a list of crazy rules at some church called the Word of Faith Fellowship.
For some reason, it seems to have driven a lot of traffic to one blog post titled “Word of Faith and a Cult Checklist.” It was not about that church in particular. I was involved in a movement called the Word of Faith back in the 1980’s and 90’s. Today, it is more likely to be called the Prosperity Gospel. I have written a lot on my blog about the Word of Faith/Prosperity Gospel. My sister once thought it was a cult, and I wanted to know myself. I found a cult checklist in an article called “Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups” from the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). I edited it a little for clarification on some points.
The idea for the post was to go through the checklist and answer according to my experiences with the Word of Faith movement. I cannot comment on the Word of Faith Fellowship, because I have no experience with that particular church. But their “do and don’t” list above sounds very cult-like. Just saying.
Nonetheless, it seems people who are interested in cults or the Word of Faith Fellowship are finding their way to that post. If you are wondering if you or someone you know belongs to a cult, here is the checklist.
Number 1: The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
Number 2: Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
Number 3: Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
Number 4: The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
Number 5: The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
Number 6: The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
Number 7: The leader is not accountable to any authorities.
Number 8: The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before they joined the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
Number 9: The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Number 10: Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and to radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before they joined the group.
Number 11: The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
Number 12: The group is preoccupied with making money.
Number 13: Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Number 14: Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Number 15: The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I thought Jesus’ personality was probably like Mister Rogers. If you don’t remember, he had a popular children’s television show in the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
His manner was always gentle and kind. He never raised his voice. He was always sympathetic and compassionate. If you were feeling sad, angry, hurt, or frustrated, he could offer some constructive ways to cope with it. The way things are going in America now, I think we need someone like that, not just for kids but for adults, too.
I’d like to nominate Jesus for that, but I can’t. He is called compassionate in the Gospels, and most of the time he was. But as I first started studying the Bible seriously, it felt like he could be a little mean sometimes. Like when he said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Did he just call Peter the devil? If Peter needed to be reprimanded, Mister Rogers would have found a more tactful way to do it. I remember the first time I read it, at the tender age of twelve or thirteen, how hurt I would be if he said that to me. I didn’t see what happened before and after that. All I could see was Jesus equating his most faithful follower with his worst enemy.
As I’ve grown older, I have gained experience to help make sense of it. And also, I learned to read not only this but everything in the Bible in context. That has taken the sting out of it, and I think I’m beginning to understand where Jesus was coming from.
Who Is He?
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
This sets the scene. They are at Caesarea Philippi, a city at the base of Mount Hermon in the northernmost part of the traditional kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon. Philip the Tetrarch built the city in honor of Caesar (Augustus) and administered it as part of the territory he inherited from Herod the Great. That becomes significant later, but for now let’s just focus on this particular interaction.
Presumably, the crowds following Jesus have been sent away, and he is alone with the twelve disciples. His first question is who do people say he is. Easy enough to answer. They just have to repeat what they have heard. John the Baptist was executed, which means some people thought he had returned. Elijah was supposed to return to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jeremiah or one of the prophets also would have had to return from the dead. It is extraordinary that they would attribute any of these personalities to Jesus. But they had seen him make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and heal all kinds of diseases, and perform miracles that other miracle workers of his day could not duplicate. Is it really impossible? Still, I wonder if any of the disciples laughed dismissively at these conjectures.
Then he asks the difficult question. “Who do you say that I am?” I imagine there was an uncomfortable silence then. They probably had some ideas about who he was but were afraid to speak up. Maybe they thought their ideas sounded as crazy as one of the prophets being reincarnated. When no one else will speak up, there is one you can count on to break the silence, Simon (Peter).
I Tell You, You are the Rock
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Can you imagine how Simon, son of Jonah, felt? Today, we call him Peter, and this is why. What better endorsement could Jesus have given him, saying “On this rock (petra in Greek) I will build my church”? There were no churches at the time, which is why many scholars think this saying of Jesus was added later (compare Mark 8:24-30, which does not mention any response to Peter specifically).
Be that as it may, this has been an important part of church tradition. As the church grew, and the hierarchical structure with it, they used this saying to claim Peter as its first pope. I wonder if any of the others thought the same thing and wished they had spoken up. And that makes the contrast in what Jesus says next all the more startling.
Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
This is a secret Jesus has been keeping. He knew speculation about him was rampant, and he had to be careful who he revealed his true identity to. To stop the disciples from getting caught up in the speculation, he told them but ordered them to keep it a secret. It would be revealed, but it was not yet time.
You Are a Stumbling Block to Me
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
So this is what tripped me up some decades ago. The elders, chief priests, and scribes had already been plotting against Jesus. Isn’t it natural for Peter to want to protect Jesus from them? He was willing to die for Jesus, and Jesus called him Satan for that? So much for Mister Rogers.
I wasn’t sure what to think of Jesus then. But now, I see the similarity with when the devil tempted him with all the kingdoms of the world. “Away with you, Satan!” he said to that. I’ve said before I believe the devil was tempting Jesus to be the conqueror his followers wanted. This was Peter repeating that same temptation. That was why he could not accept the truth of Jesus’ mission. That was how he went from being the rock to the stumbling block in just two verses.
One common theme of this Lent series is that Jesus’ first followers believed he was (or might be) the Messiah but did not understand what that meant. It happened once again as Jesus tried to explain what following him means.
Are You Sure You Want to Be My Disciples?
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Peter expected Jesus to be the righteous king who would defeat all his enemies, and he would be right at his side for his glory. And he was not alone. The other disciples expected that as well. That was why they kept arguing about which of them was the greatest (Matthew 18:1-5; Luke 22:24-30), and who would sit at his right and left hand in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-38). Even when he called that path the path of Satan, they still did not give up on it.
You have to remember for Jesus, there were two sides to being the Messiah, like a coin. Heads was the conquering king, the Son of Man who would come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and … repay everyone for what has been done. Tails was the suffering servant, as Isaiah prophesied (52:13-53:12, et al), the one who said they must follow him by denying themselves and taking up their cross.
They thought he would defeat Rome, the Imperial Beast, and execute God’s judgment for all the injustice they had inflicted on the Jews. In their minds, God gave Jesus a coin that was heads on both sides, like Two-Face before his transformation. Heads is the only possible result, they thought. Jesus kept telling them this flip would be tails, but they did not get it. At least, not until after his resurrection.
That was why, when Peter had the chance to make good on his promise to die for him, he chickened out (Luke 22:54-62). He was willing to die for the glorious king, but not the suffering servant. We pick on Peter for this, but all the others did the same. After the authorities took him, they abandoned him, too. They thought the world was theirs because they were his disciples. Jesus told them instead, What will it profit … if you gain the whole world but lose your soul? [The word “life” in Greek is psyche, which can mean life, soul, or mind. I think in context, soul is the best translation.]
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Eventually, the disciples understood the Messiah came to save lives, not destroy them. They would never become rich or powerful. They would never conquer the world. They would see him take his throne—in heaven—but not on earth. They would all die as martyrs, just as their master did, losing their lives but gaining their souls. They would find eternal life by participating in God’s plan to redeem the world, not conquer it.
Is it weakness to embrace love and peace over force and vengeance? There is someone who probably knows the answer to that better than any of us, one who accepted the devil’s temptation to conquest and empire. Here is what he said.
“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.”
He may not have been Mister Rogers. But he understood what it meant to take up his cross, to sacrifice for others. He built a kingdom by becoming a servant to everyone, even his enemies. And that kingdom still stands today. The disciples understood that (eventually). Napoleon understood it. And for anyone who says, like Peter, that they would die for him, does that mean you will be a rock or a stumbling block?
Thanks for reading. I hope you will come back for the next post. Until then, remember these words from Matthew 7, verse 12.
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
No, not these guys. Well, maybe another time. I’m talking about the temptations Jesus experienced just before beginning his ministry. He has just been baptized by John, and he went off “into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” It says he fasted forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2).
I would not have passed that test. The longest I ever fasted was three days. But Jesus was tougher than I am in a lot of ways. It says the Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted, but it does not tell of any specific temptations until after forty days and nights. I wonder if he was tempted during that time, or if the fasting was to prepare for the temptations.
If you know your Bible history, forty days in the wilderness recalls Israel’s wandering in the wilderness for forty years. It is also one of many parallels with Moses, who also fasted forty days and forty nights as he received the Torah from God (Exodus 34:28). Many commentators believe the Gospel writers wanted to present Jesus as “the prophet like Moses” who was promised in the Torah.
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like [Moses] from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.
You could literally write a book on all the connections the Gospels make between Jesus and Moses. But for now we will just look at how the devil tempted Jesus.
Turning stones to bread
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
The first temptation is obvious for someone who has been fasting for forty days. Turn these stones to bread. What harm could it have been? He was starving. Why not make a little bread so he could eat?
I’ve written before about how I believe one of the purposes of the Incarnation was so God could experience what it is like to be human. If he went around magically making loaves of bread every time he was hungry, he would not know what it was like for someone who had to work all day for that loaf of bread.
To counter that temptation, he quotes from Deuteronomy. He only quoted part of the verse, but I think it would help us to see all of it.
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
In Deuteronomy, the Israelites are about to enter the promised land. Moses is recalling for them the entire forty years’ experience of being delivered from Egypt and wandering in the wilderness. In this verse, he reminds them how they had no food, and God fed them with manna. But first, God let them go hungry.
Why would God let them go hungry? Two reasons are given. First, to humble them, God let them go hungry before feeding them. This would teach them not to panic when they look around and see no food but to trust God to provide for them. Second, this experience should have taught them that they do not live by bread alone but by the word of the Lord.
But come on, Jesus. You’re close to starving. Anyone would have understood if you made a loaf of bread.
Yes, and even under those circumstances, he did not give in to the temptation for the quick fix. As Jesus would tell his followers a few chapters later,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
(Matthew 6:25, 33).
Easy for you to say, Jesus. You’re the beloved Son of God. You don’t know what it’s like to starve. You never came close to starving to death.
Oh, wait. He does, and he did. If he had given in to that temptation, he could not have spoken this with authority. Like I said, I would not have passed that test. That’s why I’m glad Jesus did.
Throw yourself down. God won’t let you get hurt.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
The first temptation was about whether he would trust God, even when he was starving. This one is almost the exact opposite. It’s like the Devil is saying, “Okay, I get it. You trust God to take care of your needs. So I’ll give you another opportunity to trust God. Throw yourself down from this pinnacle. You’re God’s beloved Son. Surely, God will protect you. He even promised it in the Bible.”
This was probably the most insidious of the devil’s temptations, because he quoted scripture. I will probably say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live long enough. Just because they are quoting the Bible does not mean they are speaking the word of God. The devil quoted scripture. Do you need any more obvious sign than that?
The devil comes at him like, “It’s right there in the Bible. ‘He will command his angels concerning you. On their hands they will bear you up, so you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ You could throw yourself off this pinnacle, and you won’t get hurt. After all, you are the Son of God. If the angels will protect anyone, it’s you.
“What’s this? I see you hesitating. Are you telling me you don’t believe the Bible? This is the inerrant, infallible word of God. God promised you in the scriptures you won’t get hurt. This is the word of God, who cannot lie. Go ahead. Jump.”
Jesus quotes again from Deuteronomy, which says,
Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.
Massah is one of many instances when the Israelites tested God (Exodus 17:7). Moses warns them not to do that anymore. Jesus sees the connection there. Jumping off the pinnacle to prove he is the Son of God would be putting God to the test. If his forty days in the wilderness symbolically recreate Israel’s forty years, he passed this test where Israel failed.
If you are the Son of God…
Notice that the devil prefaced each of these temptations by saying, “If you are the Son of God…”. It seems he is trying to get Jesus to use his divine privilege to get out of difficult situations. As the Son of God, he could turn stones to bread. He could ask God to command the angels to protect him from harm, even if he does something stupid. Oh, what? Throwing yourself off a pinnacle to rocks below wouldn’t be stupid?
What do you think would have happened if he had thrown himself off the pinnacle? Would the angels have caught him? Maybe, maybe not. We can only speculate. But either way, that would have been the end of his mission. If the angels didn’t catch him, he would have died. If they did, it would only be because he claimed something as the Son of God that is not available to us. Both times he refuses to claim any privilege he could as the Son of God. He will live fully as a human, vulnerable in the same ways we are. Because he had a clear understanding of his mission, he did not fall for any trap that would sabotage it.
All the kingdoms of the world I give to you
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
The devil could not appeal to him as the Son of God here. “If you are the Son of God, bow down and worship me.” That would make no sense. But he makes an offer that many people would have given in to. He offers all the kingdoms of the world, and all their wealth and splendor.
All of Jesus’ scripture quotes come from Deuteronomy, so he uses this verse to answer him.
The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.
To fall down and worship the devil could mean literally bowing to him and declaring, “All hail, Satan, ruler of this age.” But I think this temptation was more subtle than that. Jesus would never have worshipped the devil in such a blatant fashion, and he knew that. So what did he mean?
Remember, at his baptism, God already announced Jesus was the king God had chosen. What kind of a king would he be? That is what the devil is challenging him about. He could take over the world if he wanted, just like Alexander or Julius Caesar. They built their kingdoms through conquest, violence, and bloodshed. That was how all kings of the world took and maintained power. Still is. Was he going to be a king like them? Or would he be different?
Then the devil left him…
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
To review, the devil has tempted him to take advantage of various privileges he could claim as the Son of God, for legitimate needs and for just showing off. He tempted him with power and glory, the likes of which would have made him the envy of the greatest conquerors in history. He even tried to bribe him into worshipping other gods (himself), a temptation the nation of Israel gave into over and over again.
The devil has finished tempting him. For now. But these same temptations would continue to dog him through the most well-meaning people, his followers and even the twelve apostles. They had been watching and waiting for centuries, eagerly awaiting the promised Messiah, the son of David, who would free them from Roman occupation and restore the glory of a united and free Israel. And if he went on from there to conquer the entire Roman empire and enslave it to Israel, and Rome had done to them, so much the better.
Going through these temptations, in private, mano a mano with the tempter himself (literally or figuratively), helped prepare him for when the crowds pressured him to be the Messiah they wanted. We should look at some of the ways his followers tried to tempt him. Who knows? We might be making the same mistakes today.
Thank you for reading. I hope this Lenten journey is meaningful to you. Until next time, remember these words from Matthew 7:12.
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Grace and peace to you.
Note: Bible quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) unless otherwise noted.
Instead of the tradition of “giving something up for Lent,” I’m reflecting on passages in the Bible that best portray its meaning. First on the list is when Jesus was baptized. Each of the Gospels portrays it slightly different. For simplicity, I’ve chosen Matthew. Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3:16-17 NRSV)
A voice from heaven. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s God. There is a lot packed into what God says. Three scriptures are echoed here that together paint a fascinating portrait of Jesus and his mission.
“This is my Son…”
Son is not capitalized in all translations. Like most Christians, I think it is appropriate in this case. In a sense, I could call myself a son of God, but not Son (with a capital S) of God. We reserve that title for Jesus alone.
This echoes a line from a coronation psalm.
“You are my son; today I have begotten you.”
This psalm was recited, or likely sung, at the coronation of a new king. In ancient Israel, the king could be called a son of God, but not Son (capital S) of God. It extols the king for his power and assures him he has God’s blessing. Even other kings and rulers better beware of him. God is ready to punish anyone who crosses him or defies his authority. That is exactly the attitude we expect God to have toward God’s anointed, right? “Touch not mine anointed.”
But does that truly reflect the kind of king he would be?
This recalls God’s word to Abraham.
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…”
Just as Abraham had one son (of his wife, Sarah), God has one Son, whom God loves. So far, it sounds like Jesus has it made in the shade. He is a king, God’s only Son, beloved of God, probably more than any other person on earth. Just as Abraham loved Isaac.
“…and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
So if God is referring back to the Abraham and Isaac, that means at the same time God affirms him as the “beloved Son,” God also says he must be sacrificed.
“…with whom I am well pleased.”
This comes from a passage in Isaiah about a figure called “the suffering servant.”
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
With whom I am well pleased recalls In whom my soul delights. God also says, I have put my spirit upon him. The Spirit of God descend on Jesus like a dove. Again, it sounds like things are going good for Jesus. Who wouldn’t like to hear God say God is well pleased with them? But in context, it means he will be the chosen servant who suffers for the redemption of others. That becomes clearer in another passage from Isaiah.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
Some translations say, “Yet it pleased the Lord to crush him….” I think the NRSV is more accurate. It’s not like God is a sadist who gets pleasure from seeing people tortured. But in this case, it was God’s will for him to suffer as he eventually did. But by using pleased instead of will, it is easy to see the connection with God’s pronouncement. Let’s continue.
When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He will be crushed as an offering for sin. He will live as a servant, and in the end, he will suffer in ways most of us cannot begin to comprehend. None of us knows what it is to be crucified, but it was a torture designed to totally humiliate and inflict as much pain as possible. The word excruciating derives from crucifixion. No one would go through it voluntarily. But that is exactly what God would call him to do, to suffer not for his own sin but for the sins of others. In doing so, he would make many righteous.
We know how his story goes. He will be crucified, dead, and buried, and on the third day, he will rise from the dead. He will descend into darkness, but then he shall see light. But as I read it, I try to put myself in the shoes of people there who witnessed the Spirit of God descend on him like a dove, who heard what God said about him. Did they really understand it?
Could he be the Messiah?
The text does not say who heard the voice. I think it’s safe to assume Jesus heard it. I’m approaching it as if John the Baptist and the others who were there heard it as well. They would not have to recognize all those scripture references I gave to know this guy must be special. But if they did recognize those echoes of prophecy, they would be thinking, “Could he be the Messiah?”
That question dogged Jesus throughout his ministry. You might think he would be happy to say, “Yes, I am.” But the title Messiah was fraught with political and religious tension. He had to be careful who he revealed it to. When King Herod found out he was destined to be “king of the Jews,” he tried to have him killed. The Romans knew the legend of a coming Messiah, a son of David, who would throw off the yoke of Roman occupation and re-establish the Davidic kingdom.
The Jews lived for the hope that they would see that happen. They believed Elijah would return just before the Messiah.
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Those who were with John believed he was the messenger, the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. If the forerunner was here, surely the Messiah could not be far behind. And then they hear God call this man “my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.” The hairs on their necks must have stood up.
What did they hear in that message? He was a king, probably from the Davidic line. The Spirit of God rested upon him. God called him his beloved Son. God is well-pleased with him. I’m sure more than one of them thought, he must be the one. If they thought of the song in Isaiah 42:1-4, they would have thought of the last line,
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
Justice for them began with defeating Rome and making Israel a great nation once again. If he was God’s anointed, no power on earth could stop him. And the vast majority who followed him, including the twelve, wanted to be at his side when it happened. When they thought of the Messiah, they thought of glory, power, dominion, and freedom. They thought of the victories of Moses, Joshua, and David over God’s enemies that built the nation. They thought it was about to happen again. They would have had a lot of questions for him. They wanted to be sure they understood what they had just witnessed. But before they could ask any questions, he left immediately to wander in the wilderness for forty days (Mat 4:1-11). I guess he was not eager to answer those questions just yet. He knew how hard they were to teach.
One recurring theme in the Gospels is how people keep wanting to call him the Messiah, but they don’t understand everything that comes with it. The glorious king was just one side of the coin. The flip side was the suffering servant. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. He would not overthrow their enemies. He would submit to death at their hands. All those people who followed him as the “Son of David,” how many of them continued to follow him to the cross?
A stiff-necked and stubborn people
When I see what passes for religious programming now, I can’t help but wonder, are we any different? They talk about victory, health and wealth, divine protection from enemies and pandemics, dominion over the earth, and personal freedom. “Don’t mess with me! I’m one of the King’s kids!”
You don’t hear about God’s power being made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). You don’t hear that having the mind of Christ means a willingness to serve and sacrifice for others (Phil 2:5-8). You don’t hear that you share in his glory by sharing in his suffering (Rom 8:17). Their message is resurrection without crucifixion.
What does it mean to follow a Messiah who came as king, Son of God, servant, and sacrifice, all at the same time? If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments below.
Next, what happened to Jesus when he went into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil? (Mat 4:1-11).
March 9 is International Women’s Day. It is meant to honor the gifts and contributions of women around the world that too often go unnoticed. This year, however, Ukraine is on my mind more than most other places, as it probably is for you. Despite an army eight times the size of Ukraine and advanced technological weaponry, Putin’s army has so far only been able to take over a few cities. Perhaps he underestimated the difficulty of urban warfare, especially when the population is so united against you. Most of the army is made up of men, and I have mad respect for the resistance they are putting up. But let’s just take a moment to honor the many ways Ukrainian women are contributing to this resistance.
Ukrainian Women on the Home Front and War Front
Ukrainian women are making protective gear and gathering supplies for fighters on the front lines, traveling hundreds of miles on foot to get their children to safety, giving birth in bomb shelters and refugee camps, and doing everything they can to support both the men who are fighting and the children left behind. Those are the traditional roles for women there and around the world, and it is vitally important work. Hats off to the women who are doing this under dire circumstances.
But that does not mean women cannot serve their country and families in nontraditional ways, including making and using Molotov cocktails, and even joining the fighting on the front line. One woman said while she was packing for her husband, she made the decision. If he is going to war, so is she. Another is reported to have taken down a drone with a jar of pickled tomatoes.
Russian women are also gathering in protest to pressure Putin to stop the war. One woman in Saint Petersburg was arrested while holding her baby. Other footage shows an elderly woman who survived the Nazi siege of Leningrad in World War 2 not backing down from Russian police.
Trevor Noah of The Daily Show highlighted all of this in honor of both International Women’s Day and the resolve of Ukrainian and Russian women in the face of one of the worst dictators the world has ever seen.
I always thought Mila Kunis was Greek. That’s how her name sounded to me. But it turns out she was born in Ukraine and immigrated to America in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. As you can imagine, the war is hitting a little closer to home for her than most Americans, and she is doing something about it. Along with husband Ashton Kutcher, she started a Gofundme campaign with a goal of raising $30 million for assistance in housing and supplies to Ukrainian refugees. They even committed to match the first $3 million in donations dollar for dollar. As of now they have raised almost $19 million. The campaign is still active, so if you want a tangible way to help, the link is below.
This invasion never should have happened, yet it is totally in character for Putin. But I think he underestimated how far Ukrainians would go to defend their country. They are an independent, democratic, and sovereign nation, and they are determined to stay that way.
It remains to be seen how long Ukraine can hold out against Russia. The US and NATO are in a difficult position of supporting Ukraine while not wanting to start a nuclear war. It’s similar to when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1980. We did not want to engage the Russians directly, but we provided weapons, training, humanitarian assistance, and any other support we could short of direct confrontation with Russian forces. Like the Afghans then, if you give Ukrainians weapons, they will fight. And if the resolve of the Ukrainian people, both men and women, is any indication, even if Russia takes over the capital, the resistance will not stop until Russia goes back home.
Future Woman of Ukraine Inspires People Around the World
And to end on a high note, here is a future woman singing “Let It Go.”
“Oh, I’ve heard that song a million times. I don’t want to hear it again.”
You haven’t heard it like this. A little Ukrainian girl sings it in a bomb shelter in Kyiv. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, I guarantee it will melt your heart.