It’s Germany’s turn. Spared from terror for so long, three attacks inside one week has hit the country pretty hard. While not all of the attacks seem to have been motivated by religious extremism, some of them, together with the recent attacks in France and Belgium have resulted in calls to stop this extremism. And they are absolutely right.
There is, of course, a different type of religious ‘extremism’.
There is, of course, a different type of religious ‘extremism’. One which leads to extreme displays of courage, extreme displays of kindness, extreme displays of sacrifice for others.
One such example is found in this week’s parasha, Pinchas. After wandering in the desert for 40 years as a result of not trusting God, a new census of the people is taken. All of those who were rebellious have died out and we are left with the new generation – a generation, that by God’s grace will inherit the Land that was promised to their fathers. After a long list of names and numbers, there is a cursory mention that, “Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” (Bemidbar/Numbers 26:65). At first glance, this doesn’t seem to hold any particular significance, until we realise why Joshua and Caleb were spared. They were religious ‘extremists’ in the correct sense of the word – while all the other spies gave a bad report, they were the only ones to trust that God would keep His promise despite the very real threats that they encountered (see Bemidbar/Numbers 13:25-33). God rewarded their trust in Him by allowing them to enter into the Land.
We encounter another example in this week’s Haftarah, the accompanying Scripture portion from the Prophets (Mlachem Alef/1 Kings 18:46-19:21). Fast forward to the times of the kings in Israel – Ahab, a bad, apostate king is in charge and there is only one person who chooses to stand up to him – Elijah. That is extreme! Elijah felt completely and utterly alone and abandoned by people, but was so extreme in his faith and trust in God, that God was able to use him to do mighty works (fire from heaven) and to show the people that the God of Israel is the true God.
Sometimes reading examples like this leave us feeling uncomfortable. We surely don’t have to be extreme as they, do we? After all, aren’t there normal people and then extreme people? Can’t we, who want to live God’s way, just be normal?
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.
Extreme is the new normal. Throughout the Torah, we read commandments that we could define as extreme or absolute: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.” (Deuteronomy/Dvarim 6:5). Not a little, not most, but all. Who does God think He is, that He can demand such extreme obedience?! What about our human rights? What about the time we live in, where we are all free to choose what we want?
God is the original religious ‘extremist’. When He came down to earth in the form of Yeshua the Messiah and lived among us broken people in this broken world, He did it out of love. When He was wrongfully arrested, tortured and executed, He didn’t die as a martyr, He died for us – He did it out of love. And today, when He offers us the chance to have forgiveness for the bad things we’ve done, to give us a new life and to restore our broken relationship with God, He does it out of love. All of those are extreme acts, coming out of an extreme love for an extremely lost and broken people – us.
God expects extreme devotion from us, because He is a God who is extremely devoted to us. But if we continually rebel and reject this love that He offers, He respects our choice. If we choose to spend an eternity without Him, He allows us to do that. If we choose death and not life, He leaves the decision up to us. But He doesn’t ask us to do anything for Him, that He hasn’t already done for us.
God is an extreme God – extreme in His love and extreme in His holiness. That’s why He calls us to also be extreme – not like the terrorists, but rather like Yeshua. To be so extreme in our love for God and for others, that we would NOT kill others, but that we would rather die for others, just as He died for us.
The religious extremism that we see on the news that ends with people dying is heinously evil and should be rejected by everyone. But the religious ‘extremism’ from followers of Yeshua that leads to wonderful acts of love, kindness and self-sacrifice are to be praised. As a Jewish person, one of the most extreme decisions we can make is to put our faith in Yeshua. We may lose friends, family etc but we gain the Messiah and access to the Father. Are you willing to take that extreme step?
Religious Extremism – as it should be