Tikun Olam

This is an actual song we used to sing in church when I was a kid:

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver-lined

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And someday yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold!

I imagine a different major faith tradition might word it this way:

I’m satisfied with a marriage arranged
A prayer carpet and some pocket change
But when jihad calls and Allah awaits
I’ll wear the bomb vest and blow through the gates.

I’ve got a virgin just over the blue
And not just one, but seventy two
I know they’ll treat me so very nice
Oh endless pleasure in paradise!

I spot many similarities in the two versions above. For example:

  • Both reveal a radical self-interest
  • Both are willing to endure something in order to get what they want
  • Both view a blessed afterlife as a kind of transaction with God
  • Both reveal a dissatisfaction with the way things are now
  • Both show a disinterest in correcting current problems and injustices

In short, they are selfish ways of looking at life and afterlife. I think they also reveal that contentment here is really a lie – they want MORE, they’re just willing to wait for it.

Another major faith tradition does not share this view. As a matter of fact, the phrase given to their life mission is “tikun olam“… which means “repairing the world.”

I’ve heard fundamentalists and evangelicals condemn other Christian faith traditions as believing that one can “work their way to heaven.” They think that the only work necessary is what Jesus did by dying on the cross and paying their “eternal life insurance policy”. They condemn the notion of a transaction with God… yet they betray themselves because they still view the afterlife as a transaction with little regard to repairing the world now. They look at the trade-off of temporary contentment for eternal gain and like the odds. It’s a gamble they’ll take, a transaction they’ll make.

And the kicker is… it doesn’t really cost them ANYTHING to “believe” such things. Especially not in a first-world country.

Yet Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven as being so valuable that it’s like a priceless pearl… and the one who values it is willing to sell everything just to have the pearl… which means that person is TOTALLY IMPOVERISHED while he or she possesses (or is possessed by) that pearl. This is a COSTLY transaction.

Then when Jesus talks about the values and principles of the kingdom of heaven – this priceless pearl one is impoverished to possess – it includes things like:

  • valuing sacrificial love over possessions
  • valuing patience and humility over anger and violence
  • valuing fidelity and integrity over mere happiness
  • valuing God doing a secret silent work in people instead of manipulating them with guilt, shame, and condemnation
  • valuing private acts of prayer and charity over the spotlight and public admiration

These values are COSTLY. This kingdom will impoverish you at the same time it enriches you.  But this kingdom’s principles are the only hope for a world bent on violent destruction. They are the “inside-out” way to repair the world.

For when we treat others the way we really would like to be treated…

When we are willing to turn the other cheek and suffer more unjust abuse…

When we refuse to objectify and hold in contempt those not like us…

When we truly believe and live like “we are all in this together”…

then hearts change…
then homes change…
workplaces change…
communities change…
states, regions, and nations change.

The world changes.

The word “salvation” in the Jewish and Christian scriptures is so very broad. It is not limited to “getting out of hell” (if hell even exists). It is suggested that a better, broader translation than “salvation” is actually “restoration”. God is interested in restoration…

  • God wants to restore us to the kind of people he intended from start.
  • God wants to restore our relationships with others so we live in harmony, not animosity and suspicion.
  • God wants to restore our relationship with our Creator so that we don’t live in fear, guilt, and shame, but in love and acceptance.
  • God wants to restore our relationship with creation so that we act as the stewards we are intended to be.

In essence, God wants us to work our way to heaven… not in the “Sweet Bye and Bye”, but right here on earth. Earth will be Heaven. Heaven will come to earth. When?

Well… that’s up to us. Are we so short-sighted that we want a quick transaction and to escape to silver-lined mansion (or 6 dozen virgins) and leave the earth in shambles? If so, we don’t intend to pay the price necessary for heaven – our sweat equity as we help repair the world. We just want what we want and are willing to wait a little while to get it. Because in the end it’s all about ME.

And if that is your position… if those are your desires, then call yourself whatever you want… except “one who desires what God wants”. You’re not following Jesus, you’re not entering the costly narrow gate into the kingdom of heaven that restores the earth so that IT is heaven. You’re just a mercenary willing to let the world go to Hell (if it even exists) while you get what you want.

Tomorrow is Easter. For Christians it is the pivot point of human history. It is where the fear of death is put to death. It is where the one who ransomed us from the enemy demonstrates his power over the enemy, which emboldens us to do what we must. And what did his followers do mere weeks afterward? The lived in harmony. They prayed together and shared food and burdens together. They sold possessions they didn’t need to help others who lacked. They affected real change in the real world in real-time. And the impact of that spread throughout the known civilized world… and beyond.

Yes, in time many no longer wanted to pay that cost and turned the mission into a mere religion that cost nothing and promised a good pay-off in the end. But you know – deep in your heart you know – this is not why we were created… we are meant for so much more than this. We are meant for… tikun olam.