I’m traveling today to Jerusalem to work with our Day of Discovery team on a new series of “land of the Bible” programs. As I prepare to leave I’m reminded of some thoughts I had after returning from a similar assignment a couple of years ago.
What I wrote is a bit long for a daily post, but when you get a chance I wish you would read my attempt at an open letter to an Israeli friend who made it clear to me that he couldn’t imagine believing in Jesus after what his family and nation endured in the Holocaust.
Hope you’re doing well. Sure enjoyed our conversations during my recent stay in Jerusalem.
Since you are aware of my confidence in the Gospel accounts, I appreciate your willingness to talk so freely about your own spiritual journey. I’ve thought a lot about your struggle to believe in a God who would allow the Holocaust.
I also keep thinking about how different our backgrounds have been. You grew up in a home where your mother, after being the only sister in her family to survive the death camps, could not talk about God. I was raised in a house where we were taught to see our Creator not only in nature and in the daily provisions of life, but also in the history of your people.
I’ve also thought a lot about your observation that some people came out of the Holocaust with a complete loss of faith, while others responded not only with belief but also with deep devotion to God.
Your candor was refreshing. And when you asked if I thought you were being unreasonable, I knew I could quickly say, “no”-while sensing that you had asked a very difficult question.
Part of me wants to say that the systematic, state-sponsored killing of your people had everything to do with human evil and nothing to do with God. But then I’m reminded of the God of the Jewish Scriptures who had His reasons for allowing pagan nations to tear down the walls of Jerusalem, while breaking His own heart in the process.
I’ve also thought about your comment that the closest you come to sensing God is in the wilderness. I too have felt the wonder of wide-open space and silence. Away from the sounds of the city, I’ve sensed not only the presence of God but also the capacity for moral choice and consequence that eventually bring me back to the commotion of the city.
On a couple of occasions I’ve heard the air-raid sirens that wail in Israel on your Holocaust Remembrance Day. I’ve watched as you stopped whatever you were doing and stood in silence for one minute. In that annual moment of remembrance, I think I’ve seen something of what it means to be a “chosen people.” From the days of Abraham, your people have been center stage in the story of human civilization. Sometimes you have been a guiding light for your neighbors. On other occasions, your story has been like an unnerving siren reminding us that something terrible has happened to our world.
No, your ancestors didn’t ask to be a “chosen people.” Nor do I believe the outcome would have been any different if God had formed or miraculously preserved any other ethnic group. Because human nature is universal, the story would have been the same, under a different name. It could just as well have been the French, the Germans, or the Japanese who had to face the reality that it’s hard to be a “chosen people.” Any other nation chosen to be the people of Messiah would bear the same burden.
In mentioning Messiah, I know your suspicion that anti-Semitism has roots in Gospel records that portray your people as “Christ-killers.” Even though the New Testament is written by Jewish authors about a Jewish Messiah, non-Jewish people have made far too much of the fact that some Jewish leaders called for Jesus’ death. What too many have forgotten is that the rabbi from Nazareth died voluntarily, under the authority of a Roman governor, and at the hands of brutal Roman executioners. When Jewish people are singularly blamed for the death of Jesus, the good news of God’s own sacrifice for the atonement of our sin is missed. Those who point the finger at Jewish people also misrepresent the spirit of the New Testament that shows God’s love for Israel (MATTHEW 23:37; ROMANS 9:1-5; 10:1-4).
But Eli, if you are not ready to read the New Testament, I wish you would at least read again the ancient story of Job. The sages of Israel have long treasured his life as evidence that people do not suffer in proportion to their sins. Instead, as the Hebrew Scriptures show, God sometimes calls people like Job, the Israelites, and His Messiah to suffer for the sake of others. Job was a good man who suffered to show the rest of us that Satan-not God-is the source of evil. Israel’s troubles help us to see the danger of walking away from the protection of God. And the sufferings of God’s sinless Messiah are for the atonement of all who have left God to go their own way (ISAIAH 53).
I don’t believe the Hebrew Scriptures give us any reason to see the tragic events of the Holocaust as a picture of God’s individual judgment on those who died. Eternity alone will show what heaven was seeing in the hearts of those who suffered in such abandonment and darkness. But if this event had any relationship to the other tragic national days described in the Hebrew Scriptures, then a chosen nation’s troubles can be a spiritual wake-up call for all who are watching.
If I know anything about the God and Messiah of Israel, His heart was broken by the suffering of Jewish people in death camps of inexpressible evil. Yet, with irony that goes beyond words, the tears and the agony of those dark days are part of the wisdom God used in giving us the freedom to choose our own path. And if in choosing our own way, we miss the rescue of God’s Messiah, it is far more loving for Him to sound a siren than to be silent.
Eli, I hope this will help you to better understand where I’m coming from. I hope to hear from you when you get a chance.