Virtual Faith

An important thing to keep in mind about virtual reality is that it is virtual. That doesn’t make it bad, uninteresting, or less fun, but it does mean that it’s not to be confused with something that is real. If you think about it from a historical perspective, virtual reality (in one form or another) has been around as long as man has. The Iliad, the Odyssey and Beowulf are ancient forms (as would be the theater). More recently there has been radio, television and movies. The only difference I can see is that the more technologically advanced we become, the less imagination and creativity are called for by whatever our current form of virtual reality might be.

The nation of Israel in Jesus’ time had their own version of virtual reality. It was their faith. Though they pretended it was real, it was not. In Mark 11:12-21 we see Jesus addressing their faithlessness through His actions in regard to two things that represented Israel: a fig tree and the temple. In typical fashion, Mark brackets these two events by telling us about Jesus cursing the fig tree (v. 13-14), then showing His actions in the temple (v. 15-17) and finally returning to the cursed tree (v. 20-21). By doing this, he is in essence treating the two events as one.

That’s helpful because many people have trouble understanding why Jesus would curse a fig tree—especially when Mark tells us it wasn’t the season for figs (v. 13). The quick answer is that He wasn’t cursing the tree itself (Mark’s statement is meant to cue us in on that); He is cursing the tree as it represents Israel. In this section of Mark, we are seeing Jesus as Prophet (v. 17). As such, He is employing prophetic symbolism. Think of Agabus taking Paul’s belt and binding himself with it to show Paul what to expect in Jerusalem (Acts 21) or how the prophet Ahijah tears Jeroboam’s cloak into twelve pieces and gives him ten—symbolizing the ten tribes he will rule over (I Kings 11). Just as Paul’s belt and Jeroboam’s cloak are used to represent something else, we are to recognize that the tree represents Israel—all leaves and no fruit (the pretense of faith with none of its fruit/virtues).

This is the same thing that is taking place in the temple. There is a flurry of activity there, but it is man-centered rather than God-centered. (Busyness is not the same thing as holiness). Two good things (selling sacrifices for the pilgrims and providing currency exchange) have deteriorated into price-gouging corruption. Moreover, all of this is taking place in the court of the Gentiles. This was the part of the temple that was open to people of all nations so that they could be a part of Israel’s festivals and learn about God. Instead it has become like a carnival midway with people haggling over money amidst the sights and smells of animals. Not the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “a house of prayer.”

Israel was intended by God to be a shining light to the rest of the world but they had become a self-absorbed, corrupt nation with a facade of faith rather than the real thing. The most important thing to remember about virtual faith is that it is virtual.



Published by A Taste of Grace with Bruce Green

I grew up the among the cotton fields, red clay and aerospace industry of north Alabama. My wife and I are blessed with three adult children and five grandchildren.

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