A photo of a poster showing the Golden Rule in the sacred writings of 13 faiths.

The Distilled Wisdom of the Human Race

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.”

Aah!

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.

Golden Rule Poster by Paul McKenna of Scarboro Missions.jpg
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.

Photo two faces obscured, eyes closed, text reads "Love your neighbor as Yourself"

Why Won’t God Speak to Me?

In my last post, I talked about why I believe there are no more apostles and prophets in the church. That was actually to lay the groundwork of a much bigger issue for me. Why won’t God speak to me? The answer appears to be the same as why God doesn’t call apostles and prophets anymore. God has already spoken, and the apostles and prophets of old wrote down God’s word in the Bible. Great. So they got to hear God speak to them directly, and we get a book that’s full of contradictions.

What? How can I say the Bible is full of contradictions?

Because of passages like this.

Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.

Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.

(Prov 26:4-5).

See, one verse says don’t answer fools according to their folly, and the very next verse says answer fools according to their folly. Which is it? This is one of many examples where it says one thing and then later the opposite. When people say, “Just follow the Bible,” I feel like saying, “Which parts?” Why can’t God just tell me what God wants from me?

I wanted to hear from God directly, and some televangelists convinced me I not only could but should hear God. Once I was saved, I had the Holy Spirit dwelling in me. Oh wait, I have to be filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. So I had someone pray over me and started speaking the way they told me. After a few weeks practice I got pretty comfortable with it. So I should have been able to hear God speak to me directly, a rhema word they called it. Almost ironic. If I pray in tongues, I will hear God in my own language. That was how it was supposed to work.

Regarding the rhema word, they made a distinction between the Greek words logos and rhema. I was taught that the logos is the written word, i.e., the Bible, and a rhema word is a word from God that speaks to your specific situation. For example, where does God want me to go to seminary? I can’t look that up in the Bible and see, “David, listen to your mother and go to Duke Divinity School.” That’s the kind of situation where I needed a rhema word. From what they told me, I should have heard it clearly. But it was like trying to tune in to a radio station at the edge of reception, where you only get static with a few words breaking through here and there. And just when you think you’ve got enough to go on, a few minutes later you hear the opposite.

The Word of Faith vs. the Word of God

The Word of Faith really raised that expectation in me. Some preachers would describe conversations with God like, “I said… and God said… and I said… and God said…” just like God was standing right in the room with them. Why can they hear God, but I can’t? When they say, “God told me this,” or “God said that,” how do they know it’s God and not their own imagination?

They gave a few guidelines that were somewhat helpful. For one, they said a rhema word would never contradict the logos, i.e., the Bible. I’ve already mentioned how that can be confusing. Even so, they made some pronouncements so unbiblical, even at my most confused I knew they could not be from God. And even when they are proven wrong, they do not repent. They keep on speaking for God. That seems to be happening more and more in recent years. Some of them openly say a rhema word has more authority than the Bible. So if they say “Thus says the Lord,” or anything along those lines, you have to believe it, even if it contradicts the written word of God.

Despite my claims that the Bible confused me for some time, in one area it could not have been clearer: Identifying false prophets and the false words they speak. The Bible is helpful if you remember this. The Bible never says if they claim God is speaking through them, you must believe everything they say without question. Quite the opposite, it says do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see if they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1). The Bible gives two specific tests for this.

  1. If what they say in the name of the Lord does not come true, the Lord did not speak it (Deu 18:20-22).
  2. If what they say comes true, but they tell us to follow gods that neither we nor our ancestors have known, again, the Lord did not speak it (Deu 13:1-4).

That is how I knew what they were saying was not from God. Their prophecies did not come true, and they had God saying things that the God of my ancestors would never have said.

A God I and My Ancestors Have Never Known

The God I and my ancestors have known is infinite and indefinable, which is why I believe the Bible contradicts itself sometimes. There was not one author but many different authors, each trying to understand God the best they could. But at the end of the day, they were finite creatures trying to understand an infinite God. In a collection of writings like that, some apparent contradictions are inevitable.

That being said, when I think of the God of my ancestors, I have found the Apostle’s Creed to be helpful as a starting point. There is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. There is Jesus Christ, his only son—only son—our Lord. There is the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit speaks and acts, it will glorify Jesus Christ, not another (Jn 16:14). If you are not a Christian, what I’m saying may or may not mean anything to you. But if you are a Christian, whenever someone claims to speak in the name of God, God not only expects us to test them before we believe. God commanded it. With that in mind, should we believe something like this?

“Nothing is going to stop me from putting my Son, Donald Trump, back in that White House … says your God!”

Say what???? My God would never say that. I don’t care what you think of Trump. Love him, hate him, indifferent to him, whatever. This fails both tests. It did not come true. Donald Trump is not in the white house. And it has God saying something our God and the God of our ancestors would never say. Again, if you are not a Christian, you can take this or leave it. But if you are a Christian, there is only one person we are allowed to call the Son of God, and it ain’t Trump. She can say, “Says your God” all day. I’m going to keep saying, “No. He. DON’T!”

Prophecy as Wish Fulfillment

In a way, I get it. We want God to speak to us, not just from a book but in an actual voice. When God spoke to people in the Bible, they seemed to have no problem knowing it was God. I don’t know how, but somehow they knew. We think if God spoke directly to people back then, God would continue to do it now. We might even start imagining we hear God speak. Maybe the philosophy of cessationism I explained in the last post applies here as well. If God does not speak in such direct fashion anymore, it must be because the Bible is already written. We are not supposed to write the Bible. God has already told us what God wants us to do in the Bible.

But you already said the Bible is full of contradictions. How can it tell us what to do?

A lot of the confusion I had earlier is clearing up for me. In that example I gave of answering or not answering a fool, it takes wisdom to know which to apply in any given situation.

You mean God doesn’t want us to just read the Bible and do what it says without thinking? We might have to use wisdom in applying it? Yes. If you are looking for a book that will just spoon-feed all the answers to you, the Bible is not it.

The Bible is God’s word, but we need wisdom in applying it, and we need context. That is why I will probably say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live long enough. Just because they are quoting scripture, or they say “Thus says the Lord,” does not mean they are speaking the word of God. The Bible is only the word of God when it is rightly interpreted, rightly read, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all of that begins with three things: context, context, and context. And as for that “prophecy” I mentioned about Donald Trump, when you read the Bible in context, there is no way you can call anyone other than Jesus the Son of God.

What Has God Already Told Us?

If you are wondering what God wants you to do with your life, here are a couple of verses that have become anchors to my soul.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

(Mic 6:8)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Is that enough for you to do? How about this.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

(Mat 22:37-40)

In Matthew’s Gospel, when they talk about the law and the prophets, they mean all of scripture. Remember, at the time the New Testament had not been written, so their Bible was the law and the prophets. Jesus said all of scripture comes down to two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. So that is another way to know whether what they say agrees with the word of God. Does it encourage loving your neighbor, or discourage it?

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

(Mar 10:42-45)

In the world, people like Alexander and Caesar were called great because they conquered and lorded over many people. In God’s kingdom, greatness comes from serving others.

Do you want to know what God requires of you? God has already told you. Love God, and love your neighbor. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Be the servant of everyone, just as Christ came not to be served but to serve. That was the foundation for the Christian community, and it still is. That does not answer questions like, “Where should I go to seminary?” But it does tell you where to focus your attention once you get there. So maybe you’re not hearing God because God is leaving that choice up to you.

How I Stopped Worrying about Missing God

But you say, “I want something more specific? Doesn’t God have a plan for my life? What if I miss it because I can’t find it in the Bible, and I can’t hear God’s rhema word for me?”

I know what you mean. I was anxious for many years because I thought God had a plan for my life, and I was missing it because I couldn’t hear God. I’ve decided to stop listening for rhema words, because more often than not, they led me astray. That tells me it was my imagination, not God. I haven’t prayed in tongues in years, and I haven’t missed it. That makes me think maybe what I spoke wasn’t tongues but gibberish. That’s what most of it amounts to when you look into it. And I feel much more within God’s plan now than I ever have, even though I don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying you can’t pray for God to direct your paths. But the answers probably won’t come in a voice like you expect. And they definitely won’t come from false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. I believe the best way to find your calling is first commit to what God has already shown you: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God, love God and love your neighbor. Then pray for opportunities to use whatever gifts God has given you to serve others. Do that and see where it leads. Don’t worry that God is going to tell you something, and you’re going to miss it. You will never miss God by loving your neighbor.


Unless otherwise noted, Biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: Rich Anderson on Visualhunt.com

New podcast appearance: This is the Situation with Brother B

I love that he included this graphic. See how the non-depressed brain is so much more lit up?

If you missed with Brother B on Muskegon 100.9 FM, you can still listen to it on podcast. Just click the link below.

Podcast: This is the Situation

Host: Brother B

Episode: FAITH&RECOVERY

Date: December 7, 2020

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/faith-recovery/id1462754264?i=1000501590655

Brother B and I talk about:

  • The difference between situational and clinical depression
  • Signs you may have clinical depression
  • Faith that is good for recovery versus faith that is bad for recovery
  • Some encouragement for those experiencing depression because of racism (you can thank Brother B for that)
  • My “red pill” moment about the Prosperity Gospel/Word of Faith movement
  • Learning compassion for yourself and others
  • What the Bible is all about in one sentence (And no, it’s not John 3:16)

This is of course part of a promotion for my book, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain. He made a really cool promo that I want to continue to use to cross promote his podcast and my book.

Like my conversation with Steve Pederson on The Dream Highway podcast (episode 26), it was a great experience for an introvert like me. I have talked a lot about living with clinical depression, but I have not talked much about being an introvert. Most people think introverts are shy and quiet, so you might be surprised to learn I enjoy interviews like this. But being “shy and quiet” is not the whole picture. Introverts tend to think a lot about big issues, like climate change, the state of the government, repercussions of policy and court decisions, what does freedom really mean, existential angst and such. Because of that, small talk is a challenge for us, so we often appear awkward in social situations.

This is what small talk feels like for an introvert.

But if you get us talking about something we are passionate about, we can talk all day. And I could have in both those cases, because I am passionate about writing and helping people struggling with depression. Fortunately for you, each episode is less than an hour.

A word about the YouTube channel

I set up a YouTube channel called Almost Ordained. Though I’ve had fun with it, I think I need to switch it to a podcast. I’ve been frustrated somewhat with aspects of video production. The last episode I filmed hasn’t aired, because the lighting was just out of control. Light, dark, light, dark … that’s what made me say, enough is enough. The episodes are still available to watch if you want to catch up on them. And I’m glad it was still up when Brother B sent me that promo, so I had a place to post it. But apparently, I don’t have the technical set up to make my own videos. Less can go wrong with audio, so I will give that a try.

That’s all for now. 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.

-(NRSV)

Grace and peace to you.