The spiritual vaccine: part 3
In this time of fear and uncertainty, I have turned the focus of my column to the one thing that is certain. We need to sustain hope and reduce panic. As in all things, my first resource for hope is the revealed word of God in the Bible. What we need to know and what we need to believe and what we need to heal is always there waiting for our need.
Three weeks ago, I taught you about the first biblical component to the spiritual vaccine, which is the fourth verse of the 23 Psalm:
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
This verse taught us that God's promise in this life here on planet earth is not a promise of lives free of suffering but rather is a promise of lives where we will never suffer alone. God is always with us on our journey.
Last week, I reached into the Book of Isaiah 45:7 for the striking prophecy:
"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."
This component of the spiritual vaccine is the belief, the mature belief, that we worship a God, who in one way or another makes everything, including evil. Some of the evil is the result of our mismanaged free will but that very free will is itself a creation of God and given to us so that we can grow to choose life.
This week, I want to add a third verse to our spiritually therapeutic vaccine and it is the first verse of the 23rd Psalm,
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
The Bible is written in Hebrew and even though history has given us many wonderful translations from the Greek translation of the Bible called the Septuagint in the 3rd century before the common era to the Latin version of it called the Vulgate in the 4th century to Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German in 1522 to the King James Version of 1611, to the excellent recent translation of Robert Alter, there remains a problem with all translations. The problem is best expressed by an old saying, "Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing through a veil." It is still a kiss, but it lacks a necessary intimacy.
We encounter the problem of having to read the Bible in a language other than Hebrew in the iconic first verse of the 23rd Psalm. It ends, "I shall not want," but the Hebrew word echsar does not mean "want." It means "lack," and so the verse should more accurately be translated as, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not lack anything." This is a profoundly different meaning for the verse. Wanting is different from lacking.
The answer to the question, "What do you want?" is endless and some of the things we want are silly and some are legitimate. If the Psalmist is trying to limit our desires, the 23rd psalm is futile and foolish. If, however, the verse intends to ask us, "Is there anything you really need that you lack now?" it becomes a profound Psalm built on a profound belief. The point is that if we look upon our lives right now, even in the midst of this pandemic, we actually lack nothing that we really need. We do not lack the capacity to starve the virus by hibernating. We do not lack the capacity for being healed by the love of family and friends. We do not lack the capacity for hope. Everything we need we have right now. We hope for healing and an end to this pandemic. We hope for medical breakthroughs, but in the heart of things there is nothing we truly need that we do not possess right now.
The belief that we lack nothing also puts a brake on runaway wants. We can become obsessed with things we suddenly believe, for no good reason, that we need. Advertising and the incessant pressures of an acquisitive and materialistic culture do not help us return to the biblical certainty that because God is our shepherd we will not lack anything necessary for our salvation and for our life and for our health.
Knowing that we are not alone; knowing that God is the creator and guarantor of everything; and knowing that we lack nothing we truly need to live and love each other -- these three verses comprise the spiritual vaccine we need to inoculate ourselves against the panic of this pandemic.
Next week, the fourth verse of the vaccine. In the meantime, stay safe and stay hopeful. We will soon emerge from the darkness and live our way into the light.
God bless us, one and all.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2020 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.