Category Archives: social justice
In the ancient Near East, a name contained the soul and essence of the being named. As such, the being was not only defined by the name, but fated to fulfill the destiny of the meaning of the name. When the humans named the animals, they were giving them meaning and purpose in God’s creation. Benoni (“son of my pain”) thankfully got his name changed to Benjamin (“son of my right side”). He could have wound up like Ichabod (“the glory has departed”). When Jacob’s name (“heel-catcher,” “trickster”) was changed to Israel (“ruled by God”), and when Saul’s name (“big”) was changed (apparently on his own) to Paul (“small”), significant shifts in destiny were endowed. New life demands a new name.
Evil in scripture is not given the dignity of a name. It is only labeled. Various metaphors are used – the devil, demons, the satan, dragon, serpent, snake, Beelzebub (lord of the flies), prince of darkness, Apollyon (destroyer), Lucifer (light), etc. – but no proper name. Those are all titles; none of them are proper names. Satan is not the devil’s name. It is the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning adversary, foe, opponent, enemy, destroyer, or accuser. The Hebrew word śāṭān, occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible and refers to both human and celestial enemies. People opposed to God are referred to in the Bible as śāṭān. The word is accompanied by the definite article. It is ha-satan—the accuser—it’s a job description rather than a proper name.
When we accuse, judge, or slander our fellow human beings we are doing the devil’s work.
Far more dangerous and sinister than some red guy with horns, tail, and trident, the śāṭān is an intelligent force of evil actively seeking to destroy God’s creation. Out of chaos, God brought forth order. Heaven and earth overlapped in creation. God walked in the garden with adam (adam means “human”) and eve (eve mean “life”) in the cool of the day. Celestial beings like cherubim and a talking serpent interacted with humans and terrestrial animals. There was no division between an unseen spiritual world and an experiential physical world.
The Bible comes full circle, ending with heaven coming to earth, the two realms unified. The task of the humans was (and is) to push back the chaos outside Eden – to unite the spiritual with the physical across all the earth. The śāṭān sought (and seeks) to pull it all back into chaos. Evil partially succeeded – Cain, the first city built on violence, Babel, antediluvian violence, wars, poverty, oppression, slavery, injustice, misogyny, racism, environmental destruction. The śāṭān is ever seeking to destroy.
But God (what a beautiful phrase – “but God”); but God took on a human body, became incarnate; the eternal Word became flesh. It is Kingdom come. The Kingdom of God came with Jesus, is here now with all under King Jesus’ authority, and will be fully manifest at his appearing. God is at work. God is making all things new. God invites us to join the divine trinitarian dance in making all new, bringing order out of chaos. We are doing so with each child we embrace, each sick or infirmed person we visit, each victim of injustice we defend, each execution and war we oppose, each enemy we forgive, and each plastic bottle we recycle.
Jesus said the road is wide that leads to destruction; the path to life is narrow. Primrose Lane looks attractive. It is the highway of the crowd, the place of popularity and glistening honors. Once on it, however, one eventually finds it is increasingly narrow, oppressive, dehumanizing. On it, life becomes closed in around self.
The road less traveled is unpaved, at times steep, winding, natural and simple in its beauty. Along it, in quiet solitude and stillness, one hears the warble of the wren, sees the gentle fawn grazing, and feels the soft kiss of the breeze as it wafts fragrances. As we continue along it deeper and deeper into the wild and wonderful untamed garden, we discover that it becomes increasingly open, broad, expansive. New worlds of beauty and grace open before us. It leads to a new heaven and a new earth; heaven come to earth, kingdom come, the garden city of God where the gates are never shut and where all are welcome. Along the way, we find our true selves filled with altruistic joy.
My mother insisted on giving my sister and me simple everyday names – Ann and Larry. Near the end of a silent directed retreat as I lay prostrate before the altar, I felt that perhaps God was giving me a new name – יְהוֹחָנָן (Yəhôḥānān), which means YHWH is gracious.
“They’re going to ask me your name,” Moses protested to the divine voice speaking to him from a burning bush. “Tell them my name is I AM – YHWH,” replied the Almighty One.
- י (yud or yod pronounced YOHD or JOD)
- ה (he pronounced HEY)
- ו (vav pronounced VAHD or VAV)
· ה (he pronounced HEY)
YHWH, the unpronounceable tetragrammaton, in Orthodox Jewish tradition, too sacred to even attempt to pronounce. Some scholars believe it to be breath sounds – yohd, hey, vahd, hey – the sound of breathing. In Hebrew and Greek the worlds for “spirit” and “breath” are the same. God breathed into the human and the human became a living soul.
God incarnate. And you shall call his name Jesus – YHWH-SUS – I AM SALVATION.
It is Jesus who breathes into us the new life so necessary to traverse the new path to the new creation. New life. New road. New Kingdom. New heaven. New earth. New creation. All things new. New name.
“… and you shall be called by a new name that YHWH will give you. (Isaiah 62:2b)
But the śāṭān isn’t even dignified with a name.
I was a junior in high school for the first half of 1968; worked at a marine field lab during the summer, and was a senior for the last quarter of that year. It was a momentous year – one that changed America and me.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated.
- Massive riots and civil unrest erupted in most major US cities; curfews were imposed, thousands were arrested, many died, whole sections of cities burnt to the ground, Federal troops were called in.
- My drafting teacher came to school in his army fatigues.
- Thomas Merton, Helen Keller, John Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair, and Karl Barth died.
- The Prague Spring was brutally crushed by the USSR.
- Two sanitation workers in Memphis were crushed to death taking refuge in the back of a trash truck during a storm because they were not allowed inside the building with white men.
- Kids my age were slaughtered during the Tet Offensive n Vietnam.
- North Korea captured the USS Pueblo and her crew.
- In My Lai, US soldiers massacred women and children.
- Civil rights marches and worker strikes took place around the country.
- Riots triggered by police brutality disrupted the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
- The Black Panther Party provided food, healthcare and education to impoverished neighborhoods.
- Second wave feminism was born.
- Black athletes protested with raised fists on the Olympic podium.
- College campuses all over the world erupted in anti-war protests.
- In Oakland, CA, the police murdered 17 year-old Bobby Hutton, a Black Panther sympathizer.
- The National Guard murdered three student protestors on the campus in South Carolina.
- The Catonsville (Maryland) Nine, including the Berrigan priest brothers, were arrested for protesting the war in Vietnam.
- An explosion in a West Virginia coalmine killed 78 miners.
- Hippies sought universal peace through mind-expanding drugs.
- Nixon was elected president. Segregationist George Wallace won 5 states.
- Sly and the family Stone danced to the music.
- Bob Dylan stayed home with his wife and three children.
1968 was the beginning of my journey from agnosticism to Anabaptist Christian.
1968 left me with a profound sense of the immorality of war and racism and a deep passion for justice.
In 1968, I volunteered to tutor inner city kids. One had part of his ear missing. Rats chewed it off. Another was learning disabled. She had been so hungry as an infant, she had eaten lead-based paint chips from the windowsill.
In 1968, I volunteered to coach a little league team of boys from the projects. The league was run by Mary Dobkin, a bilateral leg amputee, abandoned at birth, who lived on welfare in the projects with those she served.
The year before, Jesus found me, alone, sacred, confused, and broken. He called my “Little One” and told me he loved me.
My life since then has had one primary purpose: to share Jesus’ love with hurting people.