Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Easy Peace, the Tooth Fairy, and Leviticus 3

There are certain things that people want to believe in, no matter what the reality is. Often it’s because we have been raised with those beliefs, while other times it because we need those beliefs to cope with a world that is radically out-of-control. Rationality does not come into play—we want to believe some of these things whether or not we can find any support of the idea.

Some of these things are fairly innocuous: a belief in the Tooth Fairy does not do a kid much harm. Provided you couch it in the proper idea of fairy tales and imagination, it can actually be a great deal of fun, although those teeth are getting expensive.

There are other things that you can believe in, even if they are beyond possible. For a time, it’s good to encourage your children to think they might be professional musicians or athletes, until a realistic look at their abilities points out that skipping math class to sing karaoke would be highly unwise. Reality is a harsh teacher, and it’s better to ease someone towards it than to slam them into it. If you can. Even so, it’s okay to let someone live with that dream, that “Well, there was this one time I thought I had a chance….” After all, if not for that one bad night, I could have been a professional saxophone player. Right? Right.

However, there are some things that it is just never a good thing to believe in. It’s no good to believe you can fly and try practicing it from your 4th floor bedroom window. It’s not a good thing to believe your blood has super-duper clotting factors and cut your arteries to prove it. It’s not good to “believe” the safety’s on or the gun isn’t loaded---all of these are fatal things to believe, no matter how “sincere” your belief may be.

Leviticus 3 (link) gives us something else that we should be wary of believing in: easy peace. Easy peace is the notion we get in our heads that everything will be alright between all of us if we just decide to get along with each other. It's the idea that wrongs can be overlooked without any consideration for the harm done between people.

Easy peace is nonsense, and nonsense worse than any winged dental agent or rabbit-like candy deliverer. Leviticus 3 gives us some insight into the idea and how it's a non-starter. This chapter recounts for us the idea of a peace offering. Some translations use the term fellowship offering but the concept is the same: this is a sacrifice made in the intention of restoring a botched relationship. 

It is the primary offering in which the person making the sacrifice is allowed to eat part of the sacrifice: the sin offering and the burnt offerings were alloted only to the priests and God Almighty, but the worshiper is free to join in the peace offering. 

The centerpiece to this offering is the idea of restored fellowship between a person and God. This offering recognizes that even if guilt is atoned for, that does not make a relationship at peace (or in right fellowship). It only means that there are no negatives between the two parties.

However, who among us really wants to life with the statement "there are no negatives between these two"? Sure, there are people with whom that's good enough. If there are no negatives between myself and the water company, then we're good. But what relationship do I have with my wife if it's summarized by the phrase "no negatives?"

That's no place to be for the relationship between people or between a person and God. Our hearts cry out for a right relationship among parties, a place where there is positive flow between the two. Not simply a lack of negative, but a real exchange. Even if the relationship is between a greater, God, and a lesser, people.

Our problem is that we want this to happen easily. We want to be at peace without any substantial effort, especially if we are the ones who disrupted the relationship in the first place. We want the correction of wrongs to be enough. After that, it should all be okay.

Or we want to believe that, having never done anything wrong, everyone will have a great relationship with us. That if we simply avoid offense, there will always be peaceful fellowship.

It's just not the case. Peace always has a cost. Effort is always required for fellowship.

Kidneys and entrails and draining blood were the cost in those times. In our times, the costs are openness, honesty, and compassion between people and contrition, repentance, and faith between people and God--Jesus paid the blood price necessary for peace between people and God.

These are the costs, whether we like them or not. True, we could live without paying these costs, but we end up missing something that truly matters. We end up isolated, lonely and alone, and without hope. Do we want to live that way?

Today's Not-Quite-Nerdy Note: There is also a price to pay for peace between nation-states. That price is often also paid in blood. It is either paid in the blood of soldiers who stand, fight, and die for the protection of the nation behind them, or it is paid in the blood of the nation as they are conquered. There is no "middle-ground" whereby nation-states at odds with each other simply fluff it out and get over it.

It is valid that in times past, two warring tribes could simply avoid each other rather than make peace, but that ship has sailed. It is not possible to live at pure peace with everyone, for human nature is divisive at its core. However, we must realize that no easy peace comes between free people and tyrants---we either stand and fight the tyrants, at the cost of our blood, or we bow and let the tyrants conquer us, at the cost of our children's blood. Which will it be?

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