God created the world; so what?
God created the world. So what?
By Bob Mendelsohn
Given on Rosh Hashanah 5779
To listen to this, click on this link.
L’shana Tovah to you and all your family. Today marks the new year, 5779, and we in Australia are among the first in the world to celebrate this special occasion. I used to love this season of the year, and especially this holiday as it marked the end of the summer in the US where I grew up, and the start of a new sporting season for football, and school would begin where at times I was successful. At times my parents would purchase a new outfit or shirt for me to wear during this holiday season, and there was something about hearing the sound of the shofar which perked my ears to something eerie and wondrous. Maybe this is how you feel about now as well.
The rabbi would wear a white robe, the congregation and choir sang a bit more intensely, and the atmosphere was anticipatory. Something was going to happen, but we didn’t know what. I mean the prayers were laid out in the machzor, and the tunes had long since been established, but we kept greeting each other with words about new year, and thus newness was anticipated. What would be new anyway?
I knew the food would be the same as ever. And I loved the food.
I knew the family would gather the same as ever. And I loved the family.
I knew the rabbi would deliver a long, very long, super long speech, same as ever. And I didn’t exactly love our rabbi.
Certain themes came up year after year, and the one I heard the most was that about 5,700 years ago God created the world. Yes, now it’s 5,779, but whatever the timeline says, I knew God started the world, and we therefore celebrated this holiday. That’s why we have round challahs, to symbolize his crown. That’s why we sing Avinu Malkenu, because he’s not only our father, he’s our KING. And the royal image, the sovereign God who rules from heaven is the one who demands that we get along with one another, and thus we enter on Rosh Hashanah into the 10 days of Awe, which will culminate on Yom Kippur next week. 10 days of reflection. 10 days of repentance. 10 days to make the Eternal King consider us worthy of another year of life.
This number of 5779 might confuse some of you. After all, most of you have taken science classes in school, even back in primary school you learned about monkeys and evolution. You learned about Charles Darwin and his studies and his conclusions that we are part of a long series of changes, somehow starting with protozoan soup and reptiles and amphibians and gorillas and then mankind. When I was a kid at Hebrew school I had no problem believing that Adam and Eve were somehow almost monkeys. Not that I processed the deeper meanings or the scientific models very much, but to say that the earth was only 5,000 years old was ridiculous.
I know good godly people in Sydney who love the Bible and love the Lord and who consider evolution too true to dismiss, and the scientific evidences are overwhelming they say. I’m a fairly intelligent person and I just don’t see how they conclude that. I understand their points and their opinions, but the science is simply not there to validate their claims.
My point, however, is not to open or conclude a debate on evolution, not at all. My point is to highlight what I know to be true, that God created the world. He did it, by Himself, with intentionality and purpose. It included the creation of humankind, and all the beauty of Newport Beach, the stunning glory of glaciers and what they produced in Alaska or Milford Sound. That God created the world includes the majesty of Victoria Falls or even Wentworth Falls and the tiny precision of a hummingbird’s capacity to fly and hover. The hymn writer wrote,
“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.”
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.”
The hymn writer is saying there are implications in understanding that God is the Creator. I want us to consider that just now. If God created the world, so what?
1. He has the right to order His creation according to His purposes (Sovereignty)
2. He can declare what is good and right as well as what is evil and wrong. (Legislation)
3. If we disturb, malign, infect, and otherwise ruin His creation, He has every right to disturb, malign, infect and otherwise ruin us (Justice)
4. If we walk away from His order, and if He desires, He can get involved in restoration. (Salvation)
Let’s take those one by one.
He has the right to order His creation according to His purposes
Another word for that is Sovereignty
A sovereign as you learned in school is the lord of a country, thus sovereignty is the supreme power or authority in a place. Until 1914 in WWI, a sovereign was a British coin of equal value to a pound.
We don’t use the word sovereignty much anymore, and we don’t consider it much either. After all who wants to hear about rules? Who wants to be told what to do by some supreme power?
In fact, we get annoyed when the bus doesn’t run on time, and we are told to wait in a new queue. We don’t like it when others jump the queue after we’ve been waiting for 10 minutes. Actually, at that time we want a sovereign or some official to tell that jumper to get back.
But realistically we don’t want to be told at Centrelink that our issue is unresolved. We don’t want to be told that we have to pay an extra 15 cents for a bag at Coles. We are an entitled people by our own definition, and when They don’t give Us what we deserve, and in fact, demand more from us, we are disturbed. Bothered.
However, when I think about God creating the world, then He must have had a purpose in doing so. What was that purpose? Why did He create me? What’s my purpose in life? This question frames all the other questions we can raise today. God created me; so what?
Then I need to find my purpose in relation to being with Him.
I hired a new man this week at my office in Bondi Junction. He is also named James. We spent some time processing his application and getting things ship shape for his joining us. Monday he began and right away he received training in some of the activities we conduct. And he had to read the Staff Policy Manual. And he had to join us for prayers and Bible reading. You see, we are more than functionaries; we are part of a bigger picture.
Knowing how to pump petrol is good, but that doesn’t make you a mechanic.
Knowing how to stir vegetables is good, but it doesn’t make you a chef.
Calculating integrals and differential equations is good, but it doesn’t qualify you to run our Space program.
Functionaries look at what is and do their part.
But those who know purpose, the big purpose, the Grand Scale purpose for their lives, they know the background, the history, the trajectory, the future of their activities.
The Psalmist said, “God made known his ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” (Psalm 103.7) The people only were functionaries; Moses saw the bigger picture.
It’s about purpose. It’s about finding meaning and relevance in our little worlds. If all we do is awake each day to go through routines, if all we do is ride the train to get to work to go through routines, if all we do is travel to and from places hoping against hope to find relevance—all we will see are functions. Life is much more than that. Life is about purpose and finding God as Creator, knowing His purposes for the world, and for us, and …. buckle your seat belt, His purpose for me. that’s where life begins. He is sovereign.
He can declare what is good and right as well as what is evil and wrong. (Legislation)
Second, we ponder this thesis. I call this ‘legislation.’ Creators of games and creators of sports and creators of recipes can tell us what is wrong with our copies of their sport. When Wolfgang Mozart came onto the scene in the 18thCentury in Austria, he created music no one before had ever heard or even imagined. Maybe you remember the play by Welsh playwright Peter Shaffer. Later it became a movie, “Amadeus.” Patty and I saw it on Broadway in the 1980s and it was amazing. No surprise, it starred Ian McKellen and Jane Seymour then.
The story focused on the gifts of young Mozart (remember he died in his 30s) and the establishment characterized by the court musician and composer Antonio Salieri. Salieri’s jealousy of the young upstart was legend.
One of the funniest lines in the show occurred while watching the competition unfold. Mozart played a piece in Salieri’s hearing and his only response to the young composer was “too many notes.”
But the composer or in our term today, the creator of the music could define what was right or wrong. And Mozart left the music as it was. As he should have. No one is played more often on classical radio stations. No one changed music history as much as Mozart.
But remember this is only an example.
Let me give you another.
50 years ago, in the US a man in the state of Washington created a game and named it “pickleball.” It’s a combination of several other sports, like badminton and tennis. I’d never heard of it until October 2 years ago. I happened on it while visiting my sister in the US when I went into a recreation centre and found some people playing the sport. Within minutes I was playing it, and I was captivated.
I played it on visiting the US a couple other times the last couple years, and then last year in November I actually started it in Sydney. Maybe I’m like the creator, or maybe I’m just his representative, in our story today. We started and by February, we were playing three times a week in three different venues. Now we are up to 5 places, and by the end of Sukkot we will have 6 places where we play weekly and in October we are having our first National Championships in Marrickville. Amazing, eh?
But my point is not to boast about this sport, but to highlight a bit of my responsibilities. You see, there are rules, what is right and what is wrong in the game. You cannot step into certain areas unless something else happens. Serves must be underhand and your serve is wrong if you don’t strike the ball below your waist. You see, those rules are there for many reasons, all reflecting the purposes of those creators 50 years ago. If a newbie doesn’t perform or conduct himself in accordance with the rules, one of us acting like a referee or judge will notify them of their error. We legislate, in accordance with the Purposes of the Creator of the sport and seek to represent him well.
God, who in the beginning created heaven and earth, the sea and all they contain, not only began something. He intended to make it His place with His friends behaving in a certain manner. He wanted us to fulfill His plans (that’s Purpose and sovereignty) and gave us the understanding of what was proper and right, and thus what was out of bounds and wrong as well. Without legislation, then the Creator would be leaving us to our own devices and that’s not very caring, is it? The manufacturer not only has to make the new Subaru, he has to give us a manual, so we keep it up to his standards. Without standards, we are destined to ruin what was his.
No wonder God gave Torah to our people. How else would we know how to treat animals, or our planet, or each other?
If we disturb, malign, infect, and otherwise ruin His creation, He has every right to disturb, malign, infect and otherwise ruin us (Justice)
The third thesis today is what I title “Justice.” Some of you are more generous than me. You might think that people are basically good. You might think you are basically good. You’ve lived a bit and you’ve seen bad people, or people whom you consider to be no good, but they stand out to you, because as you would say, “people are basically good.”
I appreciate your perspective, although I reject it. I like people who have positive orientation, certainly much more than those who always see the glass as half-empty. And I don’t want you to hear this as if I’m a crotchety, snarky, over 60-year-old man who thinks all things are horrible in life. No, I want you to know that we all fall short of God’s standards. We all fail in keeping Torah. We all have various levels of what we would title “goodness,” but no matter how low or high those levels are, everyone we know, our sister, our mother, our rabbi, even me… we all fall short of those standards.
The Bible uses a term for that, and you may not like this, but it is labeled ‘sin.’ if God created the world, and if He established legislation to match His sovereignty, then He has the power to carry out Justice in proportion to our failures. That ‘falling short’ is sin, and the result of sin is justice. He can disturb or ruin you, if He wants to do so. Why? In the same way I can penalize a player who breaks a rule on the pickleball court, and those foot faults that come and go at the US Open as you might have seen last week with Nick Kyrios and his spontaneous lesson from the referee or Serena and her outbursts.
Justice is warranted.
When we fail, we should have consequences.
When you fail, there should be consequences.
Don’t you want punishment for those bad people who do bad things against our Jewish people? Don’t you want consequences for those misbehaving hoons who drive madly in the neighbourhood where you live?
God, the Creator, gave us regulations to keep us on His planet in such a way that He would be honored, and we would enjoy a good life. But unfortunately, we failed to keep our end of the bargain. We fall short. These 10 days which begin now on Rosh Hashanah are titled the “10 Days of Repentance.” Another term used is “Yamim nora’im” meaning “days of fear.” The 10 days of awe. If God is the Creator, and if we are honest about failures, not only Malcolm Turnbull’s failures, or Donald Trump’s failures—seriously, if we are honest about our sins, we would know that God is right and just to punish us for our sins. No wonder we cry out in Avinu Malkenu “we have no good works in ourselves” (Ki ein banu ma’asim).
We are not people who demand justice. If you know what you deserve, you know that mercy and not justice should be your cry.
If you know how poorly you hit a golf ball, you would never bellyache because your beautiful drive along the edge of the fairway hits ‘the only limb sticking out’ and forces your ball into the rough. I have a friend on the tennis court who, whenever his opponent’s ball hits the net and drops onto his side, cries, “No justice.” I often remind him that justice, getting what you deserve, is nothing a real Christian should ever demand.
If you know the righteous standards of the Almighty, you would not demand justice. It will come back to bite you.
The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death.” In other words, every one of us will get paid for our sins… or as Ezekiel said, “The soul that sins shall die.”
If we walk away from His order, and if He desires, He can get involved in restoration. (Salvation)
The fourth thesis today is perhaps the most important. We have explained sovereignty, legislation and justice. Now we turn to salvation.
The God who demands is the God who saves. He who created the best music in heaven, and the best lakes and rivers, He who ordained the sun to rule by day and the moon to rule at night, longs to be in relationship with us, yes, with you. Listen to what Ezekiel also said:
“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shallnot die.” (18.21)
What a declaration of hope! Even though we have broken God’s laws, walked away from Torah and dismissed His information, no matter how far we have gone away from the Lord, He still longs to be with us. He desires to fix the relationship and has created a method of that repair. What is that method?
The answer is in a person, the Messiah Yeshua. The One who always satisfied God’s purposes, and His legislation, who never broke a commandment, who not only understood justice, but He even brought it to pass in the turning over of some sales tables in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. He caused some blind people to see, and He walked on water. But in spite of all He did, some sentenced Him to death in a Roman court of law. And He took their punishment so that we don’t have to endure such. “God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5.21)
That’s the Great Exchange. Life for life. Blood for blood. That’s why Yeshua had to die, to take our punishment so that we could have eternal life.
Some of you have been attending these and other meetings over many years; others are new today. Thanks to each of you for coming and being part of our anniversary celebration. Today 5,779 years ago, God created humanity, Adam and Eve, and gave them, and to us, His purposes, and His legislation. Stay away from the wrong tree in the Garden of Eden and you will live.
But Adam and Eve, and Mark and Rahel and I have all broken those simple commands of the Lord, and we are worthy of justice. “But God, being in rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loves us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive with Messiah.” (Eph. 2.4-5)
You have broken God’s laws.
You are worthy of punishment.
But God being rich in mercy, loved you and sent Yeshua to take your place. Hallelujah!
This is true salvation.
This is true restoration.
This gets us back to the Garden.
I wish you each one of you, a very joyful and restful Rosh Hashanah, 5779, and a year of personal and corporate renewal, in Messiah Yeshua. Amen! get