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Responsible. Here. True.

(Answers to the first three questions of the Bible.)

The first three questions of the Bible are of great significance to me.

Before I continue, let me explain my thinking about the Bible, albeit quickly and (perhaps a little) crassly: no one in the airline industry intended for the instructions about putting an oxygen mask on oneself before assisting others with their oxygen masks to be a moral lesson. Nonetheless, it is. Similarly, I do not believe that one needs to believe that the Bible is “The Word of God” to take moral lessons from it.

Another note: this is really a sermon to me. These words are what I need to hear. If they happen to resonate with you and your heart, wonderful. But really, I write these words to me.

Let’s look at the first three questions used in the Bible. These three initial queries happen in this order: first there is a question between creation (the serpent and the first humans). Second there is a question from God to creation. Third there is a question from creation to God.

And for dramatic purposes, I want to look at the first three questions of the Bible in reverse order.

Three – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – humanity asks God

The third question is the question that Cain asks God. It is the first time in the Bible that a human being asks God a question. This is the question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

What an obnoxious, obnoxious, obnoxious question. It is the type of question that a child asks a parent, knowing full well the answer. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Cain asks this question because he has slain his brother and God tells him that his brother’s bloods cry out from the earth. (The Hebrew text reads bloods, plural – leading rabbis for generations to intone how heinous an act it was – for Cain not only killed Abel, but all potential future generations as well.)

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

I know the answer to this question. The answer is yes. Of course I am.

I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be my brother’s keeper. I want to be able to just look out for myself.

But I know the answer is yes. I am responsible for all those around me. I am responsible for more than I act. The trash on the sidewalk on my way to and from my children’s school is my responsibility – even if I didn’t drop it there. The person begging for spare change is mine to care for. My family does not start with my mother and end with my daughter.

I know full well that I ought not to own stock in companies that are doing dastardly things to the environment, even if they get me a good return on my investment.

I am my brother’s keeper.

Two – “Where are you?” – God asks humanity

The second question in the Bible is the first question that God asks humanity. God asks, “Where are you?” It is also a ridiculous question, just as ridiculous as Cain’s answer. How would God not know the answer to this question?

So, the rabbis say, as it obviously is not a question about location, it must be about something else.

And I know this question, too.

God is not asking me for my GPS coordinates. God is asking if I am paying attention, if I am awake, if I am listening, if I am present. It is like that moment that we all have had when we know a loved one is distracted with technology or some task and we want their attention. And so we ask them, with a compassionate heart – trying not to shame – “Are you listening? Are you with me?”

That is the question God is asking me. “Brian, where are you?” It is not a question asked with heat or vitriol. It is just a question so the questioner can discern how much to say, how deep of a conversation to expect, how “real” to be. As long as I am not paying full attention, or even paying much attention, why would God be real with me?

One – “Did God really say that?” – creation asks itself

The first question in the Bible is the one the serpent asks. The question is, “Did God really say that?” The serpent – who later and because of this line of questioning gets associated with the adversary – challenges the first humans to doubt what they heard from God.

SayingAnd, once doubt enters, the system is never quite the same. It is Segal’s law:
“A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

How often have I put doubt into other people’s minds?!

How often I have shaken them from what they knew and were comfortable knowing!

And how often I have been shaken from what I know. I know what I ought to be doing. I know what I ought not be doing.

How often I have not held steady to the direction of which I am certain. How frequently I have allowed a little doubt to burst my true knowledge.


I know I must help repair the world.
I know I need to pay attention.
And I know I must shake the doubt.
May I be so blessed.

With love,
Rabbi Brian
(Visit his website Religion Outside the Box)

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