Tag Archives: Israel

More False Predictions Bite the Dust

Israel’s 70th Anniversary Passes Without the

Predicted Happenings of Biblical Proportions

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

For website or small-screen viewing, click here 🙂

img_6039 Here we go, people, another predicted date of great import and spiritual significance, not to mention a big event for Judaism as well as Christianity, has come and gone, almost without incident. I write ‘almost’ out of a sense of shame and regret towards my Jewish brothers and sisters, whose country Israel sent armed forces to shoot dozens of Palestinian protesters just for protesting. Israel seems to have forgotten that theirs is the only democracy in the Middle Eastern region, and that one of the basic tenets of democracy is the right to freedom of expression. The Israeli Defense Force is actively preventing the Palestinian people from exercising this fundamental human right while forcefully exercising it themselves. The whole world sees this glaring double standard, and it is no coincidence that the American people are experiencing this same set of circumstances here at home. I have predicted in the past that this entire situation is unsustainable, and I continue to predict this will result in civil unrest globally (not just here in the US). But I digress….

This 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel as a nation was alleged to be accompanied by the arrival of Christ for the “rapture” of the Church, and this is based on Scripture, which I will get to in just a minute. But for right now, the most harmful consequences of such false predictions is that it discourages people from making the necessary preparations for the real event when it actually occurs. At least some will join the chorus of cynics whom the Bible predicts will mockingly say, “Where is the promise of Christ’s coming?” (2 Peter 3: 3-4). Let’s not forget that it was Jesus himself who said to his apostles that no one knows when he is coming back to the earth, not even himself, but only his heavenly Father.

Let’s pause and look up what He said about that. “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us’, they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come, claiming, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” [Matthew chapter 24, verses 3-8]

 

 

I’m sure you noticed the very first sentence of Christ’s response, “Watch out that no one deceives you”. At this point it is easy to see that Jesus was talking about the times in which we are currently living. There are and will be a lot of “false Christs” who will deceive an awful lot of people. Jesus wasn’t only talking about people claiming to be Jesus Christ in the flesh, he was talking about entire churches or even denominations. ‘Ours is the true way’, one church might say, and yet another different from the first may say the same thing. Jesus was talking about divisions within the body of believers, as well as phony con artists operating from without. Or on television. The increased number of earthquakes that have been recorded over the last decade or more are also in the news almost on a daily basis. When it comes to famines, humankind has them in spades, starting with a 2014 United Nations report saying that 50,000 children per day, ages 5 and under, die from starvation globally. Pause and reflect on that for a minute. Moreover, 1 in every 5 American school children will experience homelessness at least once before they turn eighteen. But these things, our Lord said, are “the beginning of birth pains”.

 

At this point, I really should add some additional background to add more clarity to this week’s message. I’m going to mention 2 things here – the Great Tribulation and the coming of the Antichrist. Whatever anyone has read or heard elsewhere, get ready to be warned about the truth about the world’s future as the Bible tells it. Most everybody knows about the 7-year Great Tribulation that is prophesied elsewhere in the Bible, mainly in the books of Daniel and Revelation, but which were written many hundreds of years apart. This 7-year period will be the final time period leading up to the return of Jesus Christ, who will proceed to rule the world from its new capital in Jerusalem for 1,000 years.

The main argument revolves around the timing of this 7-year period. Some say it hasn’t started yet, others insist we ‘re already in it. There are many details I could delve into regarding this matter, but it all boils down to what Jesus told his apostles: “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father”. [Matthew 24: 32-36]

 

Many Biblical scholars and pastors, unfortunately, take the phrase, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened”, and try to add something that isn’t there. You probably know that the nation of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948. You likely also know that a ‘generation’ in the Bible was considered to be 40 years when those words were originally written. For all you long-time Christians like myself, it was widely prophesied on the then-relatively-new Christian TV stations that Jesus would return one generation after Israel’s founding, or May 14, 1988. Much to the discredit of certain elements within main stream Christianity, we all know what happened back then, and one of the purposes of this week’s posting is to try and prevent this from happening a second time during these last days. I am sick and tired of bogus ministers who give a bad reputation to the name of Christ! But if 40 years isn’t what Jesus meant, many Christians were saying, and the average life expectancy here in the ‘end times’ is a little over 70 for men, then 1948 plus 70 years equals 2018. Aha!! So that’s when our Lord will return! Got it, now let’s get ready!

 

Nope, hold on a minute. Wait, wait – stop. Just like May of 1988, May 14, 2018 just came and went unceremoniously (excluding all the Palestinian unrest I mentioned at the top of this posting). Let’s all think back to what the Bible says: “No one knows the day or the hour”. Isn’t that what the Lord said? Not even himself, He stated. OK, now let’s look at this from another angle. If May 14th, 2018 was the day of Christ’s return, and since the Great Tribulation is of 7 years duration, then the ‘tribulation’ should have started back in the Spring of 2011, and the Antichrist should have come to power about the same time. Clearly, since none of these has occurred, all those other “predictions” won’t come true either.

 

So, now let me move on to the second topic, and that is the coming of the Antichrist, who will come upon the world scene according to the prophet Daniel (see Daniel chapter 12 in the Old Testament), as well as the book of Revelation chapter 13. As before, without having you all plunge headfirst into the murky pool of end times prophecy, let me make a generalization or two. In the first place, World War Three and the Gog-Magog war of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 in the Old Testament are one and the same. Moreover, the Antichrist will not come to power until just after this war’s conclusion. While I would be quick to agree that the stage for WW3 is currently being set, we aren’t there just yet – but, continue to watch events unfold in the Middle East very closely, because that’s where it’s going to start.

t will not be until the conclusion of that war that the Antichrist will come to power to enforce his own brand of peace. Three and a half years later he will break his own peace treaty, and that is when the countdown to the final 3.5 years will commence before Christ’s return. The final event before our Savior’s return in this context is the Battle of Armageddon, which is not the same as the God-Magog war of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. So, to dispel another myth or false teaching (take your pick), World War Three and Armageddon are two different battles set approximately seven years apart.

 

So you can pretty much disregard all the predictions on “Christian TV”, as well as all the cult churches, some of which are operating right here in the US, regarding the return of our Lord and Savior. Once again, Jesus has proven them all wrong while proving himself absolutely right. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus told his apostles he had no idea when his return would occur. That return and its timing are on a need-to-know basis, and frankly we don’t need to know. Still, the stage is being set and the players are taking their places for the Ezekiel 38-39 war as I write this. Therefore we must all remain vigilant. Remember what else Jesus mentioned about this in another part of the gospels: “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” That statement still holds true because it comes from the Son of God.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Putin’s Russian re-election and Bible prophecy: what the future holds

Putin’s Re-election and Bible Prophecy:

Closing In on Armageddon

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

[Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39, part 2]

For better small screen viewing click here 🙂

img_6039 For this week’s message, we’ll be moving on to part 2 of the recent re-election of Russian president Vladimir Putin and what this means for us in term of our understanding of Biblical prophecy about the End Times in which we are living. Previously in part 1, I went over the first 16 verses of Ezekiel chapter 38 as they apply to the modern era. As I wrote last week (you can view that message from here) concerning the “Gog-Magog War” of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, based on what is contained in the text, Gog is Vladimir Putin and Magog is Russia. And Russia, at some point in the fairly near future, together with the armies of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia, will attack Israel. This is exactly the portrait that the prophet Ezekiel paints of this End Times scenario known as the “Gog-Magog War”. And so today we’ll continue near where we left off last week, starting at verse 18.

This is what will happen in that day; When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the sovereign Lord. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble, and every wall will fall to the ground. I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign Lord. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. I will execute upon him plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur upon him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.” (Ezekiel 38, verses 18-23)

Notice in the first sentences (verses 18-19), two things: First, God never lets anger get the best of him, but anyone who attacks His land and its people (see Joshua 1: 2-4 and chapters 13-20) enrages the Lord! Second, when the Holy Land and its people are attacked by a foreign invader, God exercises his vigilance on behalf of his people. Israel does not have to call out its army to defeat the Russian and Arab armies. This is one that God will handle personally. I suspect the reason will be to come to Israel’s defense, possibly because her chief ally, the US, may be unable to at this point for reasons that I have written about fairly extensively in the past (see my blogs on either Blogger, Goodreads or WordPress.) So instead of the IDF marching off to war, look what God does instead! “In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble, and every wall will fall to the ground.

Evidently there is going to be a big enough earthquake to stop the invading armies in their tracks. That would have to entail an extremely violent earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 or above on the Richter scale, and maybe as much as a 10 plus. The extreme violence of the temblor will scare the daylights out of the entire population, and even the animal kingdom will be affected. Apparently a lot of camels will be thrown off their feet, that’s for sure. Mountains will collapse, towering cliffs will be turned into hills, and the walls of every structure will be leveled. The casualties will number in the hundreds of thousands dead and millions injured. “I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign Lord. Every man’s sword will be against his brother.” To restate those last two sentences in modern English, “It’s on!!” Nobody is going to get left out of this fight, sometimes whether they like it or not!

I will execute upon him plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur upon him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.” This battle is not going to stop just because of an earthquake. Moreover, this doesn’t appear to be an ordinary earthquake, but rather one of a supernatural nature. That’s God’s signature right there, an authentic supernatural occurrence of very mysterious origin. Besides the bloodshed of battle, Gog of Magog’s troops will be struck with a plague, with torrential rain and giant hailstones and with burning sulfur that will presumably be the by-product of the prophesied earthquake of Biblical proportions, although I’m not entirely sure how that will come about. We’ll just have to wait and see when the time comes, and I doubt that we’re going to have a very long time to wait. And now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s message, starting at Ezekiel 39 and verse 1.

Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshach and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all the carrion birds and to the wild animals. You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coast lands, and they will know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 39, verses 1-6)

As I wrote in part 1 from last week, ‘Meshech’ in the original Hebrew roughly translates as the area around Moscow, Russia today. Not just the city, but the entire surrounding countryside, probably an area comprising hundreds of square miles. “Tubal” is generally considered to be the geographical area around modern Tobolsk, Russia. There are some who say that Meshech and Tubal are in modern Turkey. They could be right, but then why does Ezekiel include both Turkey and Russia in his prophecy? “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshach and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel.

Russia is nearly twice as far from Israel than Turkey is, and yet both are prophesied to be part of the multi-pronged military assault on Israel. Moreover, Russia has 2 allies in the Middle East – Iran and Syria. And so it appears that the Gog-Magog War will go down something like this – the confederation of nations and peoples, all of whom are mentioned by Ezekiel in this prophecy as it was dictated to him by God, will launch a full scale military assault on Israel. Iran and Syria, the two Russian allies, together with Turkey, Iraq, the Muslim countries of southwestern Russia (Kazakhstan, etc.), plus Somalia and Libya (and possibly Ethiopia), will all be included in this vast army. Curiously, Egypt is not mentioned at all by Ezekiel, nor does it say how Libya and Somalia will get their troops to the battlefield. In my opinion – this part isn’t in the Bible – neither of those last two countries will be able to get their troops to the battlefield without some professional assistance. Undoubtedly they will be able to get the help they need – it could come from Russia, or more likely Iran, there’s no way to tell for sure at this point.

Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you.” Those who purport to attack Israel and its people will be disarmed – not by Israel, but by God! The attack for which Israel’s enemies have meticulously prepared will never finish being carried out. It will start off strongly enough, that’s for sure, but the well-planned and hyper-coordinated military assault of the combined nations will evaporate like a puddle of water on an August afternoon. At this point, Russia will come to the aid of its allies Iran and Syria, probably aided by Turkey and possibly other countries as well. I’m pretty sure that’s what Ezekiel meant when he wrote, “I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north…. against the mountains of Israel…..” “The far north”, I conclude, could only be Russia.

You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coast lands, and they will know that I am the Lord.” In the open fields on their way to “the mountains of Israel” and coming back again in retreat, the armies of Russia, Iran, Syria, Turkey and all the remaining armies with them, they will all perish. God will send “fire on Magog”, which appears to be a nuclear attack, presumably coming from Israeli military forces as part of the counterattack that drives back all the nations I have mentioned here. But it won’t just be Israel all by herself. She will have divine intervention from the Lord, as we have already seen. I’m sure you all would like to know how in the world can itsy-bitsy little Israel, a country roughly the size of New Jersey, defeat all those armies when it will be pitifully outnumbered, right? OK, then you will have to come back for the conclusion to this 3-part series next Sunday. In the meantime, enjoy your Easter weekend….

Tagged , , , , , ,

The first duty of any government is to take care of its people

Caring for the Poor and the Sick

Is Government’s Biblical Obligation

 

Today I will be adding to last weekend’s commentary about why universal health care is so important. This week I will take this discussion to the next level upward, how this applies to other governing authorities that include our health and general welfare. There is hardly a more controversial political battle in America today than that around the role of government. The ideological sides have lined up, and the arguments rage about the size of government: How big, how small should it be? But I want to suggest that what size the government should be is the wrong question. A more useful discussion would be about the purposes of government and whether ours is fulfilling them in a Christlike manner. So let’s look at what the Bible says.

 

 

The words of the apostle Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be “God‘s servant to do you good” as it is written:

 

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from the fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13, verses 3-5, NIV)

 

 

Today we might say “the common good” is to be the focus and goal of government. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like the Declaration of Independence. So the purpose of government, according to the apostle Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se — to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position.

 

 

First, government is supposed to protect its people. That certainly means protecting its citizens’ safety and security. Crime and violence will always be real in this world, and that’s why we have the police, who are meant to keep our streets, neighborhoods, and homes safe. Governments also need to protect their people judicially, and make sure our legal and court systems are procedurally just and fair. The biblical prophets regularly rail against corrupt court decisions and systems, in which the wealthy and powerful manipulate the legal processes for their own benefit and put the poor into greater debt or distress. The prophet Amos speaks directly to the courts (and government) when he says, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15 NIV).

 

 

But along with protecting, what should governments promote? The prophets hold kings, rulers, judges, and even employers accountable to the demands of justice and fairness, therefore promoting those values. And the Scriptures say that governmental authority is to protect the poor in particular. The biblical prophets are consistent and adamant in their condemnation of injustice to the poor, and frequently follow their statements by requiring the king (the government) to act justly. That prophetic expectation did not apply only to the kings of Israel but was also extended to the kings of neighboring lands and peoples. Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.” Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for kings or political leaders: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”

 

 

There is a powerful vision here for promoting the common good — a vision of “righteous” prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy, and even a concern for the land. The biblical understanding of justice is that the procedures must be fair and it demands unbiased courts (Exodus 23:2-8; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17; 10:17-19). That distributive justice, or fair outcome, is also a central part of justice not just from the hundreds of texts about God’s concern for the poor, but also in the meaning of the key Hebrew words for justice. Time and again the prophets use the words “mishpat” and “tsedaqah” to refer to fair economic outcomes. Immediately after denouncing Israel and Judah for the absence of justice, the prophet Isaiah condemns the way rich and powerful landowners have acquired all the land by pushing out small farmers when he wrote:

Now I will tell you what I am going to do in my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: ‘Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants.’ (Isaiah 5:7-9, NIV). It is important to note that even though in this text the prophet does not say the powerful acted illegally, he nevertheless denounces the unfair outcome.

 

 

The real truth is that fair outcomes do not always match equal outcomes. Indeed, the historical attempts by many Marxist governments to create equal outcomes have dramatically shown the great dangers of how the concentration of power in a few government hands has led to totalitarian results. The theological reason for that is the presence and power of sin, and the inability of such fallible human creatures to create social utopias on earth. Yet the biblical prophets do hold their rulers, courts, and judges, and landowners and employers accountable to the values of fairness, justice, and even mercy. The theological reasons for that are, in fact, the same: the reality of evil and sin in the concentration of power — both political and economic — and the need to hold that power accountable to justice, especially in the protection of the poor and the sick. So fair outcomes, and not equal ones, are the goal of governments. Governments should provide a check on powerful people, institutions, and interests in the society that, if left unchecked, might run over their fellow citizens, the economy, and certainly the poor.

 

 

If government is rendered unable to punish evil and reward good when it comes to the behavior of huge corporations and banks, for example, exactly who else is going to do that? And coming to a better moral balance in achieving fiscal responsibility, while protecting the poor, should be a bipartisan effort. The radically anti-government ideology of the current right wing Tea Party ideology is simply contrary to a more biblical view of government, the need for checks and balances, the sinfulness of too much concentrated power in either the government or the market, the responsibilities we have for our neighbor and the God-ordained purposes of government — in addition to the churches — in serving the common good and, in particular, to protect the poor and visit the sick.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Gun Control Is Good, But Self Control Is Even Better

Empathy and Compassion in 21st Century America

 

In a memorial service held last month in Tucson, Arizona for the victims of the 2012 mass shooting that took place there, President Obama called on Americans to “sharpen our instincts for empathy” so that we can become a more civil people. The President’s call for a more empathic culture and civil society raises these troubling questions: What has gone so terribly wrong with America? Why are we becoming more aggressive, violent, self-interested and intolerant as a society? The problem goes far deeper than just blaming the escalating rhetoric of political pundits and talk show hosts, or of vilifying the so-called “gun culture”. Like it or not, we are a country governed by the rule of law, and the Second Amendment is part of that law, which is the Constitution of the United States. Instead, it has been my observation that they are playing off a deeper sensibility – or fear – that has become engrained in the thinking of many Americans.

 

 

It is our core beliefs about the very nature of human beings that make us so susceptible to the rising plague of hate and mistrust, even to the point of paranoia, and of the intolerance and unfocused rage that is spreading across the land. The current manhunt in California for an apparently berserk ex-cop is only the latest example. The American character was forged, in large part, on a skewed idea about who we are as a people that was spawned hundreds of years ago in the Protestant Reformation. From the very moment John Winthrop and his flock of Puritans landed on American shores in 1630, we came to believe that we are God’s chosen people, when in fact the Bible states clearly and repeatedly that it is the nation of Israel that is God’s chosen people. For Scripture that backs this up irrefutably, please see Deuteronomy chapter 34, verses 1-4 (“Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land – from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev and the whole region from the valley of Jericho, the city of palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I will give it to your descendants’”, and Joshua chapter one, verses 2-5 (“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place that you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert in Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”) For the most detailed explanation found in the Bible, see Joshua chapters 13-20, which is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict that simmers to this day.

 

 

The ideology that God has a unique covenant with America that makes us special among the peoples of the world is a load of bull. We have become the fiercest supporters of the erroneous belief that the naked pursuit of individual self-interest in the market – the pursuit of profit based on greed – is the defining feature of human nature. We have by extension become believers in “American Exceptionalism,” that our political ideology and our capitalist economic system are somehow superior to all others. This political hubris was the basis for the Cold War of the late 1940’s to the late 1980’s. In our social life, we are the strongest supporters of Social Darwinism, that life is a combative struggle in which only the strongest survive. These highly regarded core “beliefs” are antithetical to a mature empathic sensibility, an antidote to compassion, and they are mean-spirited and selfish to say the least.

 

 

It’s no wonder, then, that when President Obama spoke of empathy during his first year in office, and again at the memorial service in Tucson, mentioning that it is the guiding philosophical principle in his life, he was pummeled and excoriated in the main-stream press as being weak and unfit to be the “Commander-in-Chief” of the most powerful nation on Earth. The question that is bothering me here is: What is there about the interrelated concepts of empathy and compassion that conjures up so much derision? Why does this seem to frighten so many people? Perhaps it’s because being empathic and/or compassionate requires giving up the pretense of being special and anointed, as being “God’s chosen people”, which is tantamount to being usurpers of God’s holy covenant as stated in the above passages of Scripture. It means being mindful of other points of view, which requires the maintenance of an open mind, not to mention tolerance of those who are different from ourselves. It also means abandoning the idea that narcissistic self-interest is the only thing that matters. And, most important, it means being sympathetic to the plight of others and being sensitive to their needs. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brethren, that you do for me”.

 

 

New discoveries in human evolutionary development that encompass mankind’s anthropology as well as advances in psychiatry and psychology are challenging our long held shibboleths about human nature. We are learning that human beings are biologically predisposed – not for aggression, violence, self-interest and pleasure-seeking utilitarian behavior – but rather for intimacy and sociability, and that empathy and compassion are the emotional and cognitive means by which we express these drives. To empathize is to experience the condition of others as if it was our own. It is to recognize their vulnerabilities and their struggle to flourish and to become something more than what they are. To express compassion with others requires that we first acknowledge our own vulnerabilities and to confront our own feelings of insecurity. It is because we realize that life is fraught with challenges, that we are all imperfect, fragile and vulnerable, that life is precious and worthy of being treated with respect, that we are then able to reach out and, through our empathic regard, express our solidarity with our fellow beings. Empathy is how we celebrate each other’s existence. To empathize is to civilize, and to have and practice compassion is what sums up the two greatest commandments of Christ (“Love the Lord your God with all your strength, with all your might, with all your heart and with all your spirit. And the second command is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself”).

 

 

Empathy is the real “invisible hand” of history. It is the social glue that has allowed our species to express solidarity with each other over ever broader domains. The advent of the internet in the last 20 years, and more recently social media, has increased this phenomenon exponentially. Empathy has evolved over history. In forager-hunter societies, empathy rarely went beyond tribal blood ties. In the great agricultural age, empathy extended past blood ties to associational ties based on religious or racial identification. Jews began to empathize with fellow Jews as if in an extended family, Christians began empathizing with fellow Christians, Muslims with Muslims, and so on. In the Industrial Age, with the emergence of the modern nation-state, empathy extended once again, this time to people of like-minded national identities. Americans began to empathize with Americans, Germans with Germans, Japanese with Japanese. Today empathy is beginning to stretch beyond national boundaries to include the whole of humanity. We are coming to see the biosphere as our indivisible community, and our fellow human beings and creatures as our extended evolutionary family.

 

 

This doesn’t mean that our national loyalties, religious beliefs and blood affiliations are not important to us any more. But when they become a litmus test for defining the human sojourn, all other beliefs become the “alien other”. For a long time, we Americans have been obsessed with “creating a more perfect union.” Maybe it is time to put equal or greater weight on creating a more empathic and compassionate society. The hard economic times that have been ongoing since the economic implosion of 2008 up to the present serve to add even more emphasis to this timeless truth. We have the stark choice of either upholding each other for the mutual benefit of all, or facing mutually assured self-destruction. It’s all up to us.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,
Advertisements