But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.2 Corinthians 4:7-8
So I just left Corinth on the bicycle odyssey. It was pretty important for me to go there. Before I went, I was telling people I was going to Corinth after Sparta. They wanted to know why I was going to Corinth. Apparently there isn’t much there for the tourists. When I got there, that’s the impression I got. There wasn’t all that much to do. It wasn’t a problem for me, as I was just spending one night there, and I really wanted to go mainly just to say I had been there. It was a New Testament place, and the Apostle Paul wrote two of his meatier letters to the folks there. One of them contains the text above, which is my favorite slice of the New Testament. I’ve got a couple of things to say about it. One of the things has to do with my journey into Judaism, and the other has to do with these points I have been making about superheroes and stories and all that I have been talking about in recent posts.
So then first, I’ll say that recently I got myself back onto a social media site called Reddit, and have been discussing and debating three areas there: Religion, bicycles, and superheroes. Concerning religion, I tried to join a variety of Judaism sites, but couldn’t paerticipate in the main ones because Reddit has a system called karma that you get for being well-liked by everybody, and you have to have a lot of karma to participate in the main Judaism areas. So I ended up in general religious areas that are dominated by Christianity. Also, in my talking about superheroes, a lot of the discussions happen to revolve around the fact that one of the major Superman stories of the last couple of decades revolves around Superman being protrayed a bit like Jesus.
For the last couple of years the identity of the Messiah hasn’t been too central to any of my thinking. But lately, I’ve found that distancing myself from the New Testament has given me the feeling of not having a lot of the tools at my disposal for a lot of the discussions I have been having. I’ll occasionally unapologetically reference the New Testament for its general religious value as a Jewish document related to Torah and some of the timeless truths that it tells that anyone would have a hard time arguing with whether they are a Jew or a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Hindu. I guess I’ve been doing pretty much the same lately, but I’ve been doing it A LOT. This does put me into something of a quandry, as I can see quite readily that Jews are going to be tempted to put me into a particular box if that sort of thing keeps up, and I can imagine a large number of situations in which it could very well keep up. I don’t like being put into any particular box, but I’ve been thinking to myself that maybe some boxes might not be all that bad to be in. And this brings me to another point, not unrelated to Reddit.
So coming into Judaism, there have been a couple of areas where I have had to do some research to determine if my undertanding of and attachment to the New Testament is incompatible with Judaism. The first one was that in Judaism, the majority opinion is that Elijah will come after the Messiah comes, but before the Day of the Lord. According to the New Testament, Elijah will come before the Messiah comes BACK, which IS the day of the Lord. However, I found a line in the Rambam’s Book of Kings where he says that there is a minority opinion that Elijah will come back before the Messiah. So, I kept my previous opinion about the issue and just chalked it up to my having a minority opinion.
The second issue I had to do some more research on. Most Jews today do not think Satan rebelled against God, but the New Testament is very clear that he did. In this instance I had to do some more research, but I found some very old and respected Jewish literature that says Satan did in fact rebel against God, so once again, I kept my former opinion, just noting that my opinion was an older and less common Jewish opinion.
Now this next issue has to do with the text I quoted above. It also has to do with the recent posts that I have been writing about the story of Leonidas and his 300, the thematic analysis of the supervillains in my last post, and the general ideas that I have been bringing up about reality being a story written by God that contains many layers of metaphors that we can see if our eyes are open to things. We are characters in these stories. We are the metaphors. And our lives are going to conform to certain patterns.
Now in Judaism, there is a sentiment that the more obedient to the laws of God you are, the better things will go for you, and the less obedient to the laws of God you are, the worse your life will go. Religious Jews tend to think that the reason for the holocaust was their assimilation with the gentile cultures and lack of obedience to the commandments of the laws of Moses. Also when talking a lot of Jews, I don’t get any consistent answers about the relationship between obedience and good fortune. I remember back from my days studying Jewish studies in Germany. One of my professors quoted one of the sages, I think it was Rambam, but I’m not sure, where the sage says that it wouldn’t bother him if good people always get screwed over because we live in a wicked world, and it wouldn’t bother him if the faithful always do well in life and the wicked always do worse in life. What got his goat was that there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for it at all. Sometimes nice guys finish last, sometimes the wicked get their just deserts.
And this quandry brings me to the New Testament, and the text above. It is not unrelated to my thoughts on Leonidas and Superheroes and the inherent patterns of all things. So let me explain what it is saying to clarify.
First, it was written by the Apostle Paul of Tarsis. He was a rabbi trained that the academy of Gamaliel, an extremely illustrious tannaitic rabbi, and member of the Great Sanhedrin. After his vision of Jesus he quit being a Pharisee and joined with Jesus’ followers, who were originally called The Way, and who would later be called Christians. But he never stopped following the commandments of Moses. You can see evidence of this in a particular verse about him.
And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”Acts 23:2-5
So here Paul is getting drug into court and gets hit in the face, and he chastizes those who struck him for not following the commandments of Moses, but he uses a foul mouth to do so, and when he finds out who he was talking to, he apologizes because he has broken a commandment of Moses.
So Paul was obedient to the commandments, and I think it would be unwise to say that the misfortunes that befell him were because he assimilated and didn’t follow the commandments of Moses. However, the text that he sent to the Corinthians talks about constantly being beaten down, dying but never being destroyed. There are a couple of interesting points in here. He does talk about believing and speaking, which is related to some of the ideas of belief > thought > speech > action that I’ve encountered in Kabbalah as well. But more to the point, it seems his overall message is that he experiences a lot of misery, but that the misery is bearable because he is actually conforming to a pattern that shows the world something. So he is a master talking to his disciples, but he sees himself as a disciple to a master. And he is saying that the same kinds of things happen to him as happened to his master. So that just as Jesus was hated by the rulers of the people and crucified, so does he get crucified by all the miserable crap that happens to him in life. But just so as Jesus rose from the dead, so does he get through his various problems stronger than before. He considers the afflictions of this life light and momentary, like a half a day on the cross, but that there is an eternal life that makes all the misery of his life seem like just a moment. And he isn’t just talking about himself. He says “we” and “us” like he is a part of a crew.
Now one thing I have noticed is that the more I concentrate on God, the wierder I get, and the less like other people I feel, and the more miserable things seem to go. Like I am from another planet. Actually, I really feel absolutely and totally alone. And I feel this way whether by myself or in a room full of people, with friends or not, whether I am in a romantic relationship or not, whether I am surrounded by Christians or Jews or Atheists. I guess riding my bicycle by myself across Europe doesn’t really help matters.
There seems to be a certain contrast involved, however. I have so many friends envious of my freedom, who consider me wealthy because of my pension, who years to see the things I have seen. I send pictures home of all the good things here. The spectacular views and monuments, the fun times. But I wrestle with wild animals, weather, flat tires, and finding my way. And for all of the spectacular wealth of my pension, I am the poorest person in my family. Just trying to figure out how to write books and make films all by myself, month to month, with whatever spare dime I have.
One could look at Jesus’ life and say that he was a miracle worker with thousands of followers, or you can see it as a guy crucified for not keeping his mouth closed. But Paul definitely sees a pattern in his life as resembling his master’s life, and it seems to be dominated by a consistent misery that never gets the better of him, and that he is actually kind of glad about in some ways.
This is yet again a case where some verse from the New Testament fits my experience exactly. No, it does not contradict the Torah. King David the first Messiah won war after war, but was always at war. A king with many wives and armies at his command, but if you read his Psalms he is constantly bitching about how everybody wants to kill him, his enemies have the upper hand, he’s always about to die on any given day, and if there’s anything that’s really going to kill him, it’s his many wives…
It’s not so much that the servant of God is always going to be blessed, or that the servant of God is always going to be cursed, but that it’s going to fit a pattern. He is always going to be blessed in ways and cursed in others, but with eyes open, he can see the patterns. The Torah generally presents this as that the servant of God is blessed while the opponent of God is cursed, but this doesn’t mean that he is always going to have it good. It means that he is always going to be dragged down by the bad, but that as the servant of God, he is going to be blessed because he can at least see what’s going on when the bad happens, and learn from it, and teach others from it.
So this is a post that I’m writing that is absolutely based on the New Testament. I feel like I am going out on a limb a bit with it. Pretty much everybody who knows me, Jew or gentile, knows I have a high opinion of the New Testament, and that they should expect me to reference it once in a while, but I always say to just treat it like I am referencing Tolstoy or Plato or some sort of work that doesn’t have to be considered scripture, but just contains something that is true, and to evaluate it as true on the merits of what it says. I guess I am still doing that here, but with this entirely New Testament-based post, which is in fact kind of sermonlike, I’m saying that there are spiritual matters from the New Testament that directly comport with my personal experience in a very direct way. So this kind of thing may happen from time to time, and that may have some sort of effect on my overall identity or presentation thereof. I’m not exactly sure where things will ultimately wind up. That’s going to be God’s call.
And that whole thing is why it was important for me to go to Corinth and write this post about it.