Chain of Events

“Where does a person’s responsibility end for an act that stretches off endlessly into some incalculable, monstrous transformation?” [1]

Cataclysms erupt from a single bullet fired, a missing bolt, an ignored note, a gesture misunderstood. A jet of anger forces open a door that becomes a hinge of history. We debate whether the universe is one or many, whether an event is the inevitable result of a thousand antecedent actions. We act with intentionality. We hold ourselves and others accountable. We assign blame. And we assume that a choice can always be made.

Standing at the summit, we toss a snowball, a tiny pellet, into the vast cirque of snow below us. It drops and rolls to a stop. A crack appears, widens, and races away. In moments, it is a thundering avalanche. In the weighted silence that follows, “Sorry!” doesn’t seem enough.

We no longer believe in the Fates, those inexorable forces that toy with us, flip us over like box turtles or casually drown us. We are well beyond those beliefs now; most phenomena are accounted for through natural laws and chemical reactions. Yet, waiting for a light to change, hands gripping the wheel, the heat and oily fumes of rush-hour traffic around us, it may seem entirely plausible that something we did in the past bore consequences we could not have foreseen in our current version of reality.


Judas slips in and out of our vision in the Gospels. All four Gospels report his betrayal of Jesus: only Matthew reveals his suicide.[2] The timeline begins two days before the Passover, when Jesus and the disciples attend a dinner party at the house of Simon the leper. A woman shows up uninvited to pour on Jesus’ head an expensive ointment worth almost a year’s wages. As the musk fills the room, the disciples are taken aback. Judas argues heatedly that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor.

Leave her alone, says Jesus. She’s done a beautiful thing. She’s prepared my body for burial, and wherever the gospel is told her act will be remembered. He smiles at the woman. You will always have the poor among you, he adds, but you won’t always have me. Judas flushes with anger. There is an awkward silence and then the conversation resumes. No one glances up as he slips out the door.

The Gospel of Matthew reports that he goes directly to the priests to negotiate the betrayal of Jesus into their hands. They are delighted and settle on a price. “From that moment,” Matthew comments, “he began to look for a good opportunity to betray him.”[3]

Why did he do it? After the calling, after the healings, the miles walked up and down Palestine, water into wine, demons into swine, the raising of the dead — Lazarus, for God’s sake! — feeding five thousand, blind men and lepers, sleeping on the hard ground, always the startling words, taking no thought for tomorrow, breaking bread together. All of those signs… memories like warm bread called up when the way ahead was tangled by His mystifying words — sometimes harsh — but the depth of his understanding was astonishing, turning one inside out, revealing the inner heart to oneself.

Why does he do it? Can we trace back up his decision tree, from branch to trunk to root, through the neurons and filaments, into the shadowlands between consciousness and primal urges?

There is the rush of anger, the sting of humiliation, impelling him out of Simon’s house and down to the priests. But before that, long before that, a seed germinated in his imagination. In the moment, his eyes see through the present. He has been granted a vision of history unfolding and the role he will play in it.

Judas counts himself a man of action, decisive, bold, daring. He is Judas Iscariot, after the sicarii, the assassins skilled at stabbing a person in a crowd and melting away in the confusion. Along with the other disciple, Simon the Zealot, he looks for a violent uprising against the occupying forces of the Romans. The man of decisive action cuts away, separates, and divides to isolate and reveal the singular object of desire.

Judas has known the secret for months. He has wrestled with this, asking himself why Jesus dithers, why he seems so hesitant to grasp the power that lies within him. At the feeding of the five thousand a year ago, it almost came to pass. The crowd was ready to take him by force and make him king, but Jesus sent them all away and retreated to the hills.

Judas sees himself as the only disciple who truly understands Jesus’ mission. He knows the goal, he is less sure of the tactics. Perhaps Jesus is waiting for the right moment to declare the Kingdom and signal the uprising. Perhaps the threat of violence against him will finally crack the veneer of passivity and he will take his place at the head of the crowds. Judas is willing to risk it all on the intentions he believes Jesus holds but will not reveal to just anybody.

Judas is the Insider: in the Day of the Lord he will sit at the right hand of Jesus, brothers in arms, triumphant over the odds. At the moment of supposed betrayal, the kiss will light the fuse. Jesus will turn the mob in his favor and ignite the thousands waiting for their king. He will overthrow the Romans like he flung the tables in the temple and scattered the profaning merchants.

Jesus looks around the circle, studying each face in turn. These are his brothers, his family, his people. “I tell you the truth,” he says in a whisper. They lean in closer. His hands clench around the cup. “One of you is going to betray me.” There is stunned silence, bewilderment on their faces. Peter nudges the one next to Jesus. “Ask him,” he hisses. “Who is it, Lord?” The question hangs in the air between them.

Jesus reaches for the bread, his face a mask of pain, and says, “The one to whom I give this piece of bread.” He tears at the bread, his nails digging deep. He twists it between his fingers until it gives way with a crack. He wrenches off a piece, swirls it in the oil, and stretches across the table to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.

A bead of oil forms on the table between them. Judas looks into it. There is a roaring in his ears. He sees his own face, bent to follow the curve of this tiny, golden dome, and he feels himself to be falling. He remembers hearing that if you die in your dream you will die in your life and he tries to wake himself. But now he is flying, sweeping over vast armies in the last light of the day. The armies stretch to the horizon and they are looking up at him, waiting for the signal. He takes a breath. Everything is clear now. He reaches for the bread.

Jesus says quietly, “Do quickly what you have to do.” A look passes between them. Judas nods. The others are chatting among themselves. He slips out. He is relieved and excited; the Messiah will soon reveal himself.

It is night.


Notes & References:

[2] Matt 26:20-25, 27:3-5; Mark 14:10-11, 17-21, 43-46; Luke 22:3-6, 21-22, 47-48; John 13:21-30.


Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at [email protected]. His first book, Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery, is now available.

Photo by Anton on Unsplash


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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Beautiful writing, Barry!

How light and darkness confuse and clarify.

How we all must face our darkness and pursue Light.


Thank you for this article.

Only now in my later years, I’ve come to think there might be circumstances that could contribute to these actions such as AD/HD, anxieties, head injuries, etc, etc.

There are a lot of high functioning thinkers on this forum that could possibly weigh in here.

What I do know is that it is so easy to just point the finger of blame away from ourselves and move on. Often we point it at ourselves with devastating results. But do we really move on? Someone has suggested that our actions flow out from some basic need. All of them. We might put our fingers away and reflect on this sometime.

I think that as a people, broadly speaking, we need to get a handle on this if we want to experience real growth.


Just like looking out into the ocean, we see numerous islands seemingly isolated from each other yet all connected underneath and continuous by land. What separates them is the water. Empty the ocean and lo and behold, all are one. This principle underlie behavioral psychotherapy as practiced by mental health professionals the likes of George @GeorgeTichy and Kim @cincerity. The likelihood of random behaviors are small compared to intentional and related behaviors. Only by confrontation can a behavior’s trajectory be changed. Ask the politicians, they are all aware of the behaviors until caught, then they seek spiritual guidance and check in to a rehab facility.

America loves a repentant sinner. We all do…


Or if they’re particularly brazen like the current crop they just try too bull their way through and come out on top.

But I’m wondering about the benefits and pitfalls from thinking or overthinking one’s culpability in the cascade of events. Anyone care to address that issue?


This seems to be more ingrained with those who grew up in the SDA culture where we have been burdened to behave or risk being a stumbling block to others and prevent them from being saved. Can you imagine that?

I tell my patients we can only be held responsible for our actions and behaviors. How others respond and interpret our actions is beyond our control.


In one agency that I worked I met a psychologist that had formerly worked with Drug Addiction. He told me that the hardest cases he had had to work with were from the SDAs, LDS…and Catholics. Can you imagine that? :slight_smile:


"I think that as a people, broadly speaking, we need to get a handle on this if we want to experience real growth."

Do you think that most Adventists feel that they need to experience real growth?


A couple of thoughts -
It’s quite amazing that even after spending all that time following Jesus, having witnessed the miracles and experienced the power of God in Jesus, Judas thought his plan was the better plan. It’s actually the ultimate proof that without a teachable spirit, even God incarnate, can’t penetrate an unreceptive mind. This is assuming that Judas, himself, wasn’t evil incarnate; and was trying to manipulate Jesus to reveal his power over the Romans. In that case he totally missed the point - also amazing.


That may be good advice for those who think that it’s up them to save the world; but realistically, we do have quite a lot of responsibility in how others react - especially when dealing with children. We do have the advice not to “provoke” our children. Insensitivity to what effect we may have on others is also a problem, in the opposite direction.


“Do you think that most Adventists feel that they need to experience real growth?”

Can’t speak for most adventists.
The article begins asking questions about responsibility and roots of cause.
I’m wondering if sometimes we seek easy answers. (yeah, Judas was just evil at the core) Do we really want answers?

Look around today. Some good people are saying we need law and order. Some other good people are protesting police brutality. There is cause for all this but are we really digging for answers, or are we just expending valuable energy blaming someone, anyone?

For me growth is hard. To attain that, I find that I need to be willing to seek answers. Which is why I’m here asking questions.


Good points.
I wonder if this is an either/or situation or if we move in and out of being open to God’s leading.
Also did the other 11 believe differently?

I asked the question because it goes back to to your second one now…

"Do we really want answers?"

You may not want to “speak” for most SDAs but you need to have a handle on whether or not you think/believe that change is wanted or needed by many/most of them. Otherwise, it is just a rhetorical exercise in “questioning” which can be interesting but not too fruitful in effecting change overall.


Even Nixon would have been forgiven by the American people, many believe, if he had been contrite and sincerely apologized.

We’ll never know.

But unlike Nixon, Clinton expressed remorse and acted upon it by seeking out counseling, both family counseling and spiritual counseling and kept his family together.

Hillary could have easily divorced him, but they worked it out and forgiveness had to be in the mix.

We cannot throw stones.

We must forgive ourselves and others.


You do have a valid point. A very good point too. Except I thought I was addressing the issue to the 2 standard deviations above and below the mean of a cognitively matured group of Adventist intellectuals. Being both an adult and child/adolescent psychiatrist, I will next time address both abstract and concrete issues to make certain the whole Gaussian curve is included. :wink:

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The common tie that binds the three groups are religious preoccupation. All three groups are convicted that they are the true and only true church. Herein lies the danger of religion, the religious-induced atrophy of empathy. Sibling rivalry?


Thank-you for your thoughtful reply. It really does help to know where a person is coming from because it usually will reveal a lot about the individual.

I agree with you 100 percent that only the HS that knows what a person’s real thoughts and feelings are. You have brought up some good questions/observations about the article.

Good for you that you cared enough to put enough effort into your own life to understand it better. Many things that have happened in our lives become much clearer when we take the time to discover the patterns and underlying processes. It isn’t always pretty or easy…but I do believe it is essential for spiritual growth.

We are all part of “Less than perfect” peoples here. :smiley:


"Sibling rivalry".…this made me laugh because there is so much truth in it. :slight_smile:

"Religious preoccupation" …a friend of mine is fond of quoting, “Being so heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.”.

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Thank you.
It would be really really cool if you thought it worth your time and attention to offer remarks on those questions and observations.

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"So right now the only access I have to SDA thought is thru Spectrum. And that is all over the place. But really Adventist’s are no different than anyone else."

Yep…SDAs are only human beings mostly striving to live a spiritual life as they perceive it to be.

"So it really is hard for me to speculate and judge what’s going on in someone else’s head. I see some awful narrow and deeply entrenched views held by some here. And there seems to me some that are comfortable questioning everything."

It is easier to “speculate” when you have more interaction with the person though in the world of the internet it isn’t exactly like being in person. Some people are pretty blatant and some passive-agressive, others are totally oblivious, etc., to what their real intentions, motivations, etc. are on this site. Yes, there is a huge disparity of views and a variety of where individuals are in their development on this site. I, myself, have changed over the years from reading and participating.

"Which takes me back to the article which raised questions about individual responsibility and roots of cause. Does Judas get a bum rap because he acted on heart felt beliefs that were probably shared by the others?"

Maybe…but all we have are the biblical records and what was reported to happen in them. Most Christians would agree that Judas’s involvement resulted in Christ’s crucifixion but even that was reportedly a “prophetic” event. So, it could be say that Judas was playing out his part in this scenario and if it was not he- it would have been someone else. Interesting observation.

"And how reliable is a story written decades after the event by people who were not first hand witnesses? Were they looking at the act and speculating on the contents of his heart?"

There are those who would say that we cannot definitively state that every account in the Bible is “reliable” or “accurate” based upon the points that you have made and from the Bible being written from cultural biases, etc.

I personally fall more in the camp that says that not all in the Bible is “literal”…some is allegorical, prophetic…and some we will simply not know in our lifetime. For example, the “Creation” story, to me, is not literal but rather is teaching/telling about a Creator God.

Hope that this addresses some of what you were talking about.