With June’s news headlines focusing on the IRS scandal of targeting conservative groups and Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s practices of storing telephone metadata, email, and Internet usage of Americans, and reflecting on our Independence Day celebrations a few days ago, I have been thinking a great deal about personal freedoms and liberty. Public polls expressing sentiment on whether Snowden is a traitor to the U.S. or a defender of public interest and personal freedoms do not reveal a clear majority; even members of congress have been speaking out in support on both sides of the issue. Regardless of where you land, one must take into account one’s views on mass surveillance or “surveillance state” (the term being used in recent news stories), global terrorism and one’s levels of fear, trust, and safety.

On June 20th, I attended a plenary session of the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Theological Library Association. In his presentation, Dr. Peter W. Ochs, the Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia, discussed Psalm 42, with specific attention given to the phrase “Deep calls to deep” in verse 7. He explained that the psalmist’s reference to “the deep” is dealing with the passions of the heart and a religious experience that is not always fully comprehensible in our natural worldly knowledge, perceptions and understandings. His presentation was accompanied by slides of wars and impacts of wars related to battles over religious ideologies that had or are taking place around the world. No major religious group is innocent: Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Atheism, and Christianity.

The premise of Dr. Ochs’ presentation, “Deep Calls to Deep:  Information, Reason, and Wisdom in Inter-Religious Communication,” is that conflicts based on religious ideologies occur (I would add as do wars based on political and economical ideologies and the three are difficult to isolate from one another) because one group wants to force its ideals and views of truth and knowledge onto others. If people learned to communicate in the spiritual depths referred to by the psalmist in Psalm 42, then peaceful inter-religious communication could be achieved on a global scale.

While I agree with Dr. Ochs in that, if people did not try to force their own ideologies (religious or otherwise) onto others, there would be less conflict and increased chances for peaceful coexistence, there are many points to refute from a Christian perspective that explains the unlikely feasibility of such an ideal. However, Dr. Ochs’ presentation did get me thinking about Jesus’ own actions and teachings while on earth, which were accompanied by truth, freedom, liberty, and the lack of forced obedience.

Jesus stated that God the Father anointed Him with the Spirit to proclaim freedom for prisoners and to set the captives free from the bondage of sin and death Luke 4:18 & Romans 8:1-4. Yet, He also taught us to fulfill our civic duties (Matthew 22:15-21) as did Paul (Romans 13:1-7). Further, He did not come to force people to follow Him or bring God’s Kingdom by force (John 18:33-37) and taught his disciples to simply move on from towns that rejected them (Matthew 10:1-20) for others that would accept them and embrace the Gospel.

Now I do not think this means we can sit idly by and not confront despots like Hitler and terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida. It does mean we cannot force the acceptance of truth and real faith onto anyone. For Christians who truly learn to believe, communicate, and live with God in the Spiritual Deep of the psalmist, there is true freedom and liberty in the presence of God’s inseparable truth and love. For in light of God’s omniscience, which is much more complete than any NSA or IRS database could ever achieve, even though He has a complete record of all of our beliefs and doubts, thoughts, words, and actions, whether noble or sinful, we find in Jesus mercy, forgiveness, love and acceptance which we should extend to all people around us!

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves as vice chair of the Ministry Board and chair of the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church in Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.


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