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Asking the clergy: New Year's resolutions

The concept of making a New Year's resolution dates back to the Babylonians, who resolved to return borrowed farm tools to their rightful owner before the start of the new year. Making good on one's obligations and promises is probably a good idea, but is it a godly one? Our clergy weigh in on whether New Year's resolutions will bring you closer to God.

The question: Are New Year's resolutions contrary to religious teachings?

The Rev. Wendy Steed, Woodmere-Lawrence United Methodist Church, Woodmere; and St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Inwood:

The answer is both yes and no. Yes, in that they represent our ability to recognize things in our lives that need improvement and our willingness to take on those issues from a perspective of positive action. No, in that, while we can make the commitment, the resolution says I can do it by myself, and all I need is to focus. This represents one of society's greatest downfalls, the focus on me, me, me.

I would add three little words for a more successful and religiously tuned-up resolution " . . . with God's help."

What scripture tells us is that God made a pact that he will be with us always. The Bible tells us in Matthew 19:26 that " . . . with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The problem is not with making the resolution, but the way we go about it. There is a certain hubris to say that we can put all our energy into something and make it happen.

The Rev. Jimmy B. Coffey, pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, New Hyde Park:

The problem is not the making of a resolution. The problem lies in how we think about it and whether we're making it to get something in return. There's nothing bad about wanting to improve some aspect of your life. The problem with resolutions from a religious point is if we expect something in return from God for our new, virtuous behavior.

Let's use going to church as an example of a resolution. You resolve to attend services more in the new year. On the surface that's a great thing, unless you think that by attending services more that God will think better of you or gift you in some way for your attendance. Instead, if I were making that resolution, I'd say, "I want to be a better husband and father by being more faithful to going to church."

The difference may seem subtle, but it is huge. I'm not expecting something for my attendance. After all, God has given us the greatest gift, the gift of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. Instead, I'm looking at my attendance as a way to be a better husband and father.

The Rev. Delores Miller, Evangel Revival Community Church, Long Beach:

By definition, a resolution is a state of mental firmness, determination or resolve. It is a commitment to make change.

The Bible does not speak for or against the concept of New Year's resolutions. The closest thing biblically that is parallel to a resolution is the making of a vow in Ecclesiastes 5:5: Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

There is a difference between spiritual and natural resolutions. For example, natural resolutions are things like losing weight or saving money. Spiritual resolutions are things that deal with sin in our lives (Hebrews 4:13), not taking God's glory (Isaiah 46:6-9) or not slandering one another (1 Peter 4:8).

As long as the resolution is not directly opposed to Bible doctrine or law and remains positive, it is not contrary to religious teaching. It shows the strength of one's individual faith and hope to achieve a goal.

Brian Baruch Shamash, cantor, South Huntington Jewish Center, Melville:

In the Jewish tradition, our celebration of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, comes on the evening before the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which customarily falls sometime in September and lasts for two days.

In general, rabbis discourage us from making vows to God, or to others, that we will not be able to keep.

But, ultimately, when we are faced with a significant challenge that seems insurmountable, I believe it is so important to reach out to God in prayer, seeking guidance and the wisdom gained from the study of Torah.

Perhaps we should look at resolutions as an opportunity every day of our lives to see our mistakes.

Here is a prayer that may help strengthen you:

"Help me, O God, to find my own good in choices that will also be good for others"

-- Rabbi Chaim Stern (1930-2001)

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