Feeds:
Posts
Comments

20130615-155756.jpg

20130615-155909.jpg

You could see him from 100 yards or more. How could you miss him, his body swollen to its limit due to a retention of excessive fluids. So it is not surprising that Dr. Luke alone records this brief narrative (Luke 14:7-11). The condition of “dropsy,” with a man’s body all puffed up, provided our Lord and Luke a graphic illustration of pride and arrogance in the religious leaders of their day–and, dare we say, of the religious leaders of our own day as well. Perhaps that’s why the Apostle Paul, Dr. Luke’s traveling companion and fellow-theologian, also made use of the same illustration, applying it to all of us, not just to church leaders: “Knowledge puffs up [makes arrogant], but love builds up [edifies]” (1 Cor. 8:1, Gr.).

So there we have it: Are we puffed up or built up? Or better: Are we puffed up (arrogant) or are we building up (edifying) others? Unapplied “knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Cor. 8:1, NASB). While in Israel (or in most places), it’s easy to find a ton of knowledge expounded by recognized scholars. But, along with it, a ton of arrogance as well: from the Muslim world, from the Jewish world, and surprisingly, from the Christian world also, even the Evangelical world! A few days ago I had a brief discussion with a young Ph.D. student at a world recognized university. Boy was he smart! And he made sure I knew it. There is no one as smart as a young (!) Ph.D. student. As my former mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, used to say, “It takes four years to get a Th.M. degree from Dallas Seminary, and then four more years to get over it, so that God can then use you!” Take it from a former young scholar, how true it was (is)! I’m so glad I’m no longer young; I almost said “no longer arrogant.” But if I said that, I would be admitting that I’m arrogant, right? But all of you who have had the privilege of making my acquainting, know, of course, that I’m not an arrogant man, right?

So how can we deal with the spiritual symptoms that culminate in the illness of arrogance? In other words, how do we take our growing knowledge repository and keep it from spilling over into the disease of pride? The answer is simple, both in theory and practice: “Knowledge makes arrogant [puffs up], but love edifies [builds up]” (1 Cor. 8:1). First, aim on loving God. How? Through our own commitment and obedience to Him and His Word (1 Cor. 8:2-3; cf. Matt. 22:34-40). And second, focus on loving others, especially “those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). How? Through our own sacrificial Christlike service for others (1 Cor. 8:4-13; cf. Matt. 20:25-28).

And, yes the Lord Yeshua did heal the puffed up man, even on the Sabbath. In other words, the Great Physician depuffed him. Don’t you think He can still do the same for us today?

20130611-160421.jpg
There’s is something special about the Lord’s Supper, at least there is supposed to be. After all, the Lord Himself did say to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22:19f.; 1 Cor. 11:24-25). And His chief follower, the Apostle Paul, added these significant words, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). So when we celebrate the communion of the Lord’s Supper in the present, we look to His past death for us and we look to His future return for us as well. In other words, like a great biblical suspension bridge, the Lord’s Supper reaches back to the cross and points forward to the crown: His cross and His crown. And we share in both. How often we forget.

Like the Lord who shared His last supper with His friends, our Israel 2013 Group once again shared the communion with Him, as His friends. And friends with one another! What a time of worship. What a time of joy. What a way to conclude our study tour. And, of course, it helped that we shared it at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, the so-called Protestant site of the burial and resurrection of the Lord Himself. Even if this were not the actual historical burial place of the Lord, it certainly was this kind of burial place where He was laid to rest in a first century garden tomb: a new rich man’s rock hewn tomb, a rolling stone to seal off the entrance, an olive press in a lovely private garden, a huge water cistern (Matt. 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42; etc.).

Of course, it is not so much the place or the persons, is it? It is THE PERSON! For He is risen forever more! And so are we! We must never forget! So celebrate the Lord’s Supper in your own garden, wherever it might be. And remember: “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said” (Matt. 28:6). Don’t forget!

20130610-151710.jpg
I drove into the mall at Netanya. The entry machine popped out my payment stub. I found a parking place and began my people-watching journey through the mall for the next two hours. Being worn out from the Israeli people-play, I headed down to the payment machine, pulled out my wallet, dropped in my shekels, and received my exit receipt. Then I headed out to the underground parking lot to find my car. But guess what? I couldn’t find my car! And after three laps through the Level 3 Parking Lot, I still couldn’t find my car! So what then? Of course, back to the underground elevator to try Level 2. And there it was. My little lost wallet–laying on the floor in front of the payment machine, ten feet from the elevator. All by itself. No one near or far, just my little lost wallet. “Oh, thank you Lord! You lost my car so I could find my wallet! You not only care about the big things, but You also care about the small things.” “. . . for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27b). Oh by the way, I found my car on Level 2.

Hi!

This is David, Barry’s son. Dad asked me to post up some of the pictures from our day today. Today was a full of exploring the old city. We covered a lot of ground including: a visit to the the Cardo, a stop at the Western Wall and the southern steps of the 2nd period Temple where Jesus & the Apostles walked. After that we shot over and had lunch at one of my dad’s favorite hole-in-the-wall spots – The Green Door {in the Arab Quarter}. Once our stomach’s were full we took a taxi cab up to the top of the Mount of Olives and then walked down the same path that Jesus took during his triumphal entry. As we reached the bottom we took some time at the Garden of Gethsemane and then jumped in a taxi and drove over to St. Stephens Gate (aka The Lion’s Gate) where we walked down the Via Dolorosa. Our final visit was to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Here are some pictures from our travels today:

“In fact, if there were no God, the Nazis could not have been
held accountable for their evil deeds, for there only
would have been deeds, not evil deeds.”

*

SYNOPSIS

Some Jews doubt God’s existence; others vehemently deny it. Much of the Jewish objection to belief in God stems from a specific occurrence of evil, namely the Holocaust, the systematic murder of six million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. There is a more basic problem, however. Before anyone can begin to discuss the question, “How could a good God rightfully allow evil?” he or she must first explore the question, “How can a human rightfully define evil?” This second, more basic question involves a task that is impossible without God. Respected Holocaust historian Elie Wiesel likely faced these same issues as he struggled to resolve his own dilemma concerning whether to believe in God as a post-Holocaust Jew. Examining these questions in light of his experience may help us present evidence for the existence of God to other Jews who are wrestling with a similar existential conflict.

Those of us who have tried to share the biblical case for the messiahship of Jesus with our Jewish family or friends have been interrupted at times with the same bitter, angry reaction: “There is no way that I will investigate whether Jesus is the Messiah. I don’t even believe in God! Since the Holocaust, it is impossible for a Jew to believe in God!”

Whenever nonbelievers raise the problem of evil in evangelistic conversations, they effectively erect a wall or barrier against the gospel. When they focus on the problem of evil in the hideous form of the Holocaust, as many Jews do, they reinforce that wall considerably. When they react to the Holocaust with staunch religious atheism or existential struggle, they fortify that wall even further against the gospel, making it a formidable evangelistic obstacle for the Christians who are trying to reach them. The common spiritual reaction of existential struggle displays itself most clearly in the life and writings of Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel, the great historian of the Holocaust. Like many Jews who share this plight, he is torn between his denial of God’s existence and his own sense of God’s existence. Understanding Wiesel’s struggle can nurture our compassion toward Jews who experience similar angst. Studying the reasons for believing in God despite such evil may strengthen our ability to help erode the wall in their hearts. As we gently dismantle this twice-buttressed wall of resistance, we will be able to present the gospel lovingly and effectively to the Jewish people.

GRASPING THE PREVALENCE OF RELIGIOUS ATHEISM

The most well-known Jewish atheistic theologian is Richard Rubenstein. His words testify to his ongoing struggle over the existence of the God of the Jewish Scriptures: “I am compelled to say that we live in the time of the ‘death of God’. . . . the thread uniting God and man…has been broken. We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any purposeful power beyond our own resources. After Auschwitz, what else can a Jew say about God?”1 Elsewhere, Rubenstein adds, “More than the bodies of my people went up in smoke at Auschwitz. The God of the covenant died there.”2

Radical Jewish theologians such as Rubenstein are not alone as they wrestle with the loving God of traditional Judaism and the sickening horror of shocking evil. As even Orthodox rabbi Irving Greenberg writes, “To talk of love and of a God who cares in the presence of the burning children is obscene and incredible; to lean in and pull a child out of a pit, to clean its face and heal its body, is to make . . . the only statement that counts.”3

Jewish theologian Seymour Cain adds that the Holocaust is a “stumbling block,” and “whatever may be the case with Christian theologians, for whom it seems to play no significant generative or transformative role, the Jewish religious thinker is forced to confront full face that horror, the uttermost evil in Jewish history.”4

Messianic believer and theologian Jakob Jocz notes, “Auschwitz casts a black pall upon the civilized world. Not only . . . man’s humanity . . . but God himself stands accused. Jews are asking insistently: Where was God when our brothers and sisters were dragged to the gas ovens? . . . Faith in the God of Israel . . . is . . . a challenge, but after Auschwitz it is an agonizing venture for every thinking Jew.”5

FACING THE CHALLENGE OF RELIGIOUS ATHEISM

Christians must be prepared to deal with this issue. Some may think it sufficient merely to fall back on the famous Chasidic saying forged in the flames of the Holocaust, “For the faithful, there are no questions; for the non-believer, there are no answers.”6 Falling back on clichés or ignoring this challenge to the existence of God, however, is inexcusable for those who are committed to the saving message of the gospel. As Peter, the Apostle to the Jews, exhorted us,

Sanctify [the Messiah] as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense [Gk. apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in [the Messiah] will be put to shame.7

~ 1 Peter 3:15–16) ~

It is worth noting Peter’s admonition that we must make our “defense” with “gentleness and reverence.” This is especially true with Jewish atheists, because there are two kinds of religious atheism that the convulsions of the Shoah (Holocaust) have induced, and both need to be handled with respect.

The first kind of Holocaust-induced atheism is an emotional atheism that arises out of the depths of a hurting heart. It does not and cannot respond to logical reasoning, especially if it began too close in time to the traumatizing event.8 This kind of atheist needs pastoral love, patience, and prayer, as well as a listening ear and a sensitive heart.

The second kind of Holocaust-induced atheism is a belligerent atheism that arises out of the foolishness of an arrogant heart. “The fool [Heb. nabal] has said in his heart, ‘There is no God Psalms 10:4; 14:1; 53:1); in a senseless and rebellious posture (i.e., nabal), he or she refuses to submit to the truth (Romans 1:18-32). This kind of atheist needs a loving, logical, and firm encounter with the truth of the Word of God and the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:7–11; 2 Timothy 2:24–26; 3:16–17; 4:1–5; Jude 3, 17–23; etc.).

UNDERSTANDING RHETORICAL STRATEGY

In developing a Holocaust apologetic, we must begin with a rhetorical strategy. For example, if I were an attorney attempting to win a case, I would do everything I could to get someone from the opposing side to testify on behalf of my client. In other words, I would begin with what my audience already accepts, then connect the information back to what I want (here, what God wants) them to understand. This was the rhetorical strategy of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, when, with a holy boldness, he lovingly reminded his hostile audience about God’s promise of a latter-day outpouring of His Spirit through the Jewish prophet Joel (Acts 2:14–21). In a sense, this apologetic approach could be termed “pre-evangelism” (see, e.g., Romans 9:1–3; 10:1), because it may earn us the right to be heard on further matters (e.g., messianic prophesy, Jesus’ death and resurrection, justification by faith, etc.).

THE PAIN OF ELIE WIESEL: CONFIRMING WHAT JEWS ACCEPT

We can begin, then, with the case of esteemed Holocaust historian Elie Wiesel, himself a Jewish survivor, whom Jews already accept as perhaps the most well-known and respected voice of the Shoah. Once we connect his dilemma to their own, we can point them to his apparent resolution of the dilemma and help them understand the likely reasons for that resolution.

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 to a religious family in the village of Sighet, Transylvania. He received a traditional Talmudic education, studying with the Chasidic rabbis in the village. In 1944, the Nazis deported all of Sighet’s Jewish inhabitants to various concentration camps. Wiesel’s mother, father, younger sister, and other relatives were murdered. His two other sisters survived.

Wiesel During the Holocaust

Wiesel described his life during the Holocaust in his earliest and most profound work, titled Night. He described a hanging that he witnessed when he was 16 in these well-known paragraphs from that work:

[The head of the camp] had a young boy under him…a child with a refined and beautiful face. . . . One day when we came back from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place. . . . SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains—and one of them, the little servant, the sad-eyed angel. . . .

All eyes were on the child. He was lividly pale, almost calm, biting his lips. . . . The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. . . . “Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked. At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over.

Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. . . . We were weeping. . . . Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive. . . . For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony before our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “Where is God now?” And I heard a voice within me answer him: “Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows.”9

Many believe these lines to be some of the most poignant descriptions ever written about the Holocaust. The immediate impact of these events on the young Wiesel was emotional atheism. He believed that his God died.

Many Jews believe that evil won out and that God died in the Holocaust. That settles the quandary for them, but it didn’t settle it for Wiesel. His bitter experiences during those horrific years of the Holocaust did not deprive him of belief in God once-and-for-all. Wiesel’s progression of thought on this issue may provide valuable insight for those Jews who suffer the same kinds of existential confusion as he did over their own religious atheism.

Wiesel After the Holocaust

It appears that further reflection and the passage of time forced Wiesel to adjust some of his perspectives on the Holocaust. He recorded this shift in his lesser-known and more-reflective pieces. We shall note only three examples from these writings, although there are several that bear similar testimony.

In a journal article, Wiesel affirmed that any genuine protest against God—such as those of Abraham (Genesis 18), Moses and Aaron (Exodus 5, 32; Numbers 16), Job (Job 13, etc.), David (Psalms 10, 13, etc.), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12; Lamentations 3, etc.), and Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1) – must come from within the covenant context, not from without. Specifically, he stated, “The Jew . . . may rise against God, provided that he remains within God.”10

Later, in a television interview, Wiesel propounded the following thought: “For a Jew to believe in God is good. For a Jew to protest against God is still good. But to simply ignore God, that is not good. Anger, yes. Protest, yes. Affirmation, yes. But indifference to God, no. You can be a Jew with God; you can be a Jew against God; but not without God.”11

Finally, Wiesel testified to his own ongoing struggle with God when he declared, “To be a Jew is to have all the reasons in the world not to have faith . . . in God, but to go on telling the tale . . . and [having your] own silent . . . quarrels with God.”12 The emotional Wiesel refuses to embrace the painful reality of the God of his tradition; the rational Wiesel, like Jacob of old, grapples with God as a living Being, seeking blessing for himself and his people.

Why would Wiesel withstand all of this existential tension? What would drive someone like Wiesel to maintain his theism when religious atheism seems to be more viable? It is important to have your Jewish loved ones consider why he does not yield, as perhaps they do, to a hard-core religious atheism. There are several possible reasons; the two discussed in the remainder of this article are based on the implications of atheism.

IF THERE WERE NO GOD: GRANTING WHAT JEWS ASSUME

It is likely that Wiesel ultimately refused to abandon God altogether because he was able to envision the logical consequences of his Holocaust-induced religious atheism. To begin our case for God’s existence during and since the Holocaust, we must lovingly nudge our Jewish friends toward those same logical conclusions. In other words, we must ask, What would be some of the inevitable consequences of persisting in the belief that there is no God or that God really did die in the Holocaust? A rational exploration of these consequences may cause our Jewish friends to reevaluate their atheism.

Consequence Number 1: Illegitimate Law

Laws do not come from nowhere. They must come from lawmakers or lawgivers. If there is no God, laws must come from humans; that is, they must be derived from the best and worst proposals of humankind. To embrace atheism is to embrace a world without any transcendent Lawgiver.

Without a transcendent moral Lawgiver there can be no transcendent moral laws, and the people who govern or control therefore will be the elite who are in power, either the consenting majority or the empowered minority or individual (e.g., Hitler and the Nazis). As Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881) observed in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, if there is no transcendent rule or reign of law, that is, “if there is no God, all things are permissible.”

So it was in the dark days of the Judges, when there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Evidence of this in our own day is clearly manifest: public opinion reigns supreme. Gallup and his polls have replaced Moses and his laws!

In this kind of relativistic Holocaust kingdom, who could successfully argue that six million Jews were any better or any worse than six million ants crawling on the ground? The Nuremberg Laws would seem to beg this question! Without any higher or transcendent laws from a transcendent Lawgiver, the Nazis would have had every right to pass any kind of laws they deemed necessary against non-Aryans (so-called vermin), whether dictated by Adolph Hitler or approved by the majority of Germans, including the German State Church. Without God, they would have been beyond any kind of moral accountability. It would have been their perfect right, privilege, and responsibility to determine for themselves who and what had meaning, purpose, and value;13 indeed, a world without a transcendent Lawgiver is a world that is devoid of any true meaning, purpose, and value.

In such a Holocaust kingdom, it makes perfectly good sense to destroy the undesirable (e.g., the Jews, the Gypsies, the political dissidents, the homosexuals, etc.) before they destroy the desirable (i.e., the Aryans). Auschwitz was the logical outcome of such a humanistic, relativistic worldview.14 Without the moral restraint of a transcendent set of laws from a transcendent moral Lawgiver, anarchy inevitably will result (see, e.g., Romans 1:18-32; 1 Timothy 1:8-11).

It was, ironically, the “higher” laws of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, used in the Nuremberg and other International War Tribunals, that served to convict and punish the Nazis for crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.15 These two modern war conventions were born out of the Middle Ages and grounded in biblical worldviews that were committed to a transcendent moral or natural law, to which all men were accountable.16

Contemporary historian Robert G. Clouse not only verifies these historical underpinnings of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, but maintains that many of the framers of these conventions were themselves strongly committed to a Christian worldview:

There was a strong Christian influence that led to international gatherings such as the Hague Conferences. . . . From these meetings came decisions that limited the nature of war, protected the rights of prisoners of war, affirmed the need to care for the sick and the wounded, promised protection of private property and guaranteed the rights of neutrals.17

For example, statesman, jurist, and historian Hugo Grotius (1583 – 1645), “the father of international law,” who laid the foundation for all modern war conventions, was also a committed Protestant commentator on the Bible. Grotius wrote his treatise on the law of war in part because he believed that nations share “a common law of Rights,” but yet had observed that “all reverence for divine and human law was thrown away, just as if men were thenceforth authorized to commit all crimes without restraint.”18

This transcendent moral law is nothing less than the universal law of God “written on human hearts” (Romans 2:14-16; cf. Acts 17:22-31).19 Western society still finds that law, which accords with a biblical worldview, entirely and conveniently pertinent to matters such as modern war tribunals, despite the fact that it has abandoned that worldview. It is virtually impossible, then, even if we attempt to deny the divine Lawgiver Himself, to deny that His laws are written on our hearts. We expect, even demand, that others live by them every day, even if we don’t live by them on a daily basis.20 Wiesel appears to understand that it is important to remain committed to the divine Judge and Lawgiver, as Abraham did when he proclaimed, Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (Gen. 18:25). Perhaps Wiesel believes this because he knows the serious consequences of atheism, the second of which follows.

Consequence Number 2: Whimsical Morality

Like laws, morals and ethics do not come from nowhere; they come from moral and ethical determiners. Any set of morals that is not transcendently based, that is, determined from outside the human frame of reference, of necessity must be determined from within the human context. This means that any moral or ethical system derived from such a godless world must be relative to its very core. We, accordingly, could not talk about “morals” (i.e., prescriptive norms: what people ought to do), but only about “mores” (descriptive norms: what people actually do).

Philosopher Norman Geisler states this dilemma as follows:

How would you know that the Holocaust is ultimately wrong [or evil] unless you knew what was ultimately right? If you don’t have an absolute standard for right, you can’t say that [the Holocaust] is absolutely wrong. That’s just your opinion, and somebody else’s opinion could be, the Holocaust was the best thing in the history of mankind.21

Geisler and Turek make this same point in relationship to Hitler’s actions and the Nuremberg War Tribunal:

When the Nazi War criminals were brought to trial in Nuremberg, they were convicted of violating the Moral Law (which is manifested in international law) – the law that all people inherently understand. If there was no such international morality that transcended the laws of the secular German government, then the Allies would have had no grounds to condemn the Nazis. . . . without God to provide an objective standard of right and wrong, people set the rules. And if people set the rules, there is no objective moral standard by which to evaluate Hitler’s actions against those of, say, Mother Teresa.22

To those who say that everything is relative and that there are no moral absolutes, Geisler counters, “You can’t make everything relative unless you’re standing on the pinnacle of your own absolute.”23

If God is removed from any system in which all moral values derive from Him, then His removal inevitably must result in anarchy (Romans 1:18–32). Even Jewish death-of-God theologian Richard Rubenstein is forced to grant this point: “Murdering God . . . is an assertion of the will to total moral and religious license.”24

Historian Paul Johnson points out that the relativistic morality of the Nazis grew out of the existential philosophical notion of obeying the “iron laws” that were created by the state25 instead of the absolute moral laws that were taught in the churches:

Hitler . . . appealed to the moralistic nature of many Germans . . . [who desired to live ‘morally’ but did not possess any] code of moral absolutes rooted in Christian faith. . . . Marx and Lenin translated [this philosophy] into a class concept; Hitler into a race one. Just as the Soviet cadres were taught to justify the most revolting crimes in the name of a moralistic class warfare, so [were] the [German] SS . . . in the name of race.26

Johnson also observes, in a frontal way, that if we cut “the umbilical cord [from] God, our source of ethical vitality would be gone. . . . we humans are all Jekyll and Hyde creatures, and the monster within each of us is always striving to take over.”27 In other words, morality without God is Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”!

In states of relativism, it does not matter who the moral ethicist is or what his or her particular view is.28 All of these systems leave one in the moral abyss determined by those in power at the time. Whether it is Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and his relative utilitarianism (i.e., one should act so as to produce the greatest good for the greatest number in the end), or Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991) and his relative situationism (i.e., everything is relative to the situation and the only thing required in any moment is love), or any other approach leaving the divine perspective out of the formula, we are left in the hands of those who have enough power to determine for us what is the moral truth at any given moment. Hitler and the Nazis, as well as most of the rest of Germany’s population, certainly were convinced that their solution to “the Jewish question” was the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run (i.e., Bentham) and that they were carrying out the most loving acts of ethnic cleansing in that particular situation (i.e., Fletcher).

CONNECTING WHAT JEWS ACCEPT TO WHAT THEY DON’T

When our Jewish friend or colleague protests in a vehement moral outrage that there has been no God since the Holocaust, it is imperative that we lovingly remind him or her that such a moral outrage, if it is to be valid, must be grounded in the very existence of God, His transcendent law, and His absolute morality. Otherwise, it is ultimately groundless emotional ranting.

We must help our Jewish friend recognize, along with Elie Wiesel, that the consequences of denying God’s existence are far worse than accepting it, even after the Holocaust. In fact, if there were no God, the Nazis could not have been held accountable for their evil deeds, for there only would have been deeds, not evil deeds. There can be public opinions and private viewpoints, but without God, there can be no legal or moral accountability for one’s actions.

God has commissioned us to help our Jewish friends and colleagues recognize this reality. And just maybe, along with this recognition, some of them might even be open to discussing the messiahship of Jesus.

DOING APOLOGETICS TO THE GLORY OF GOD

The aim of apologetics, like everything else, ultimately is to glorify God.29 As the Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly affirms: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” God is committed to our task: When we fully depend on Him and prayerfully seek to dismantle the wall that is buttressed by the evil of the Holocaust and the dissonance of doubt, God will work in and through us with the Jewish people – to His glory. After all is said and done, including our allowance for the place of divine mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29), Isaiah’s confession concerning the Jewish people is still true: In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old (Isaiah 63:9).

NOTES

1. Richard L. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz: Radical Theology and Contemporary Judaism (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1966), 151–53.
2. Richard L. Rubenstein, “Auschwitz and Covenant Theology,” The Christian Century 86 (May 21, 1969): 718.
3. Irving Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust,” in Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era? Reflections on the Holocaust, ed. Eva Fleischner (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1977), 41–42.
4. Seymour Cain, “The Questions and the Answers after Auschwitz,” Judaism 20 (Summer 1971): 263.
5. Jakob Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ after Auschwitz: A Study in the Controversy Between Church and Synagogue (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 23, 34.
6. Azriel Eisenberg, ed., Witness to the Holocaust (New York: The Pilgrim Press, 1981), 628.
7. All Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Version.
8. See Robert M. Hicks, Trauma: The Pain That Stays (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1993). See also Orthodox Jewish apologists Gershon Robinson and Mordechai Steinman, The Obvious Proof: A Presentation of the Classic Proof of Universal Design (New York: CIS Publishers, 1993).
9. Elie Wiesel, Night, trans. Stella Rodway (New York: Avon Books, 1960), 44, 74–76.
10. Elie Wiesel, quoted in Emil Fackenheim, Richard H. Popkin, George Steiner, and Elie Wiesel, “Jewish Values in the Post-Holocaust Future: A Symposium,” Judaism 16 (Summer 1967): 298–99.
11. Elie Wiesel, quoted in Alice L. Eckardt, “Rebel against God,” Face to Face 6 (Spring 1979): 18.
12. Elie Wiesel, “Talking and Writing and Keeping Silent,” in The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, ed. Franklin H. Littell and Hubert G. Locke (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1974), 277.
13. See Norman L. Geisler and Frank S. Turek III, Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is It Legal? Is It Possible? (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998). See also Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).
14. Moral philosophers explain that every evil power in history has employed two sets of tactics to perpetuate the moral wrongs that they have instigated. In Nazi Germany, there was one to condition the soldiers that the Jews really deserved to be exterminated (to force them to view the Jews as evil and as vermin), and another to condition the non-Jewish population that the Jews required deportation (to force them to suppress all questions about the fate of the Jews). See J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 156; and What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2003), 192–97.
15. For the use of these conventions in the post-World War II tribunals and “The Crystallization of the Principles of International Criminal Law,” see Encyclopaedia Judaica, 1972 ed., s.v. “War Crimes Trials.” See also Gideon Hausner, Justice in Jerusalem (New York: Holocaust Library, 1966); Adalbert Rückerl, The Investigation of Nazi Crimes, 1945–1978: A Documentation, trans. Derek Rutter (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1980); and Bradley F. Smith, Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg (New York: New American Library, 1977).
16. For background on these conventions, see Percy Bordwell, The Law of War between Belligerents: A History and Commentary (Chicago: Callaghan and Co., 1908).
17. Robert G. Clouse, ed., War: Four Christian Views (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 23. See also Bordwell, 28–49.
18. Grotius, Prolegommena, par. 28; quoted in Bordwell, 30–31.
19. See C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 17–39 (this section originally published as The Case for Christianity in 1942); C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001, originally published in 1944); and J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart.
20. See Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 169–93.
21. Carey Kinsolving, “For Christian Apologist, God Speaks in the Voice of Reason,” The Washington Post, July 3, 1993, Metro Section, B7. See also Norman L. Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1978).
22. Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality, 20, 63–64. See also Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 176.
23. Kinsolving, B7.
24. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, 20.
25. Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 296.
26. Ibid.
27. Paul Johnson, The Quotable Paul Johnson: A Compilation of His Wit, Wisdom and Satire, ed. George J. Marlin, Richard P. Rabatin, and Heather Richardson Higgins (New York: The Noonday Press, 1994), 20.
28. For an overview of approaches to ethics, see Norman L. Geisler, Options in Contemporary Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981).
29. See John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1994).

 

Well, here we are again (barely). So much for technology! My i-Pad died and left me high and dry, right here in Israel. So now with a borrowed laptop in hand, we can pick up where we left off.

One of my favorite things to do is to walk the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. But it has to be at the right time: around four in the afternoon, before the streets are flooded with folks heading home after a long day at work. This is the time when I have the streets to myself.

I am not talking about one of the streets in a major city in America. No, the streets of Old Jerusalem are more like narrow corridors, maybe big enough for one car to pass (at least in some places). And at four p.m., Jerusalem’s streets are quiet (except in the Muslim Quarter which is alive with its street merchants hawking their goods and wares). But in the Armenian, Jewish, and Christian Quarters, it is quiet, especially a few days ago in the Christian Quarter. I mean really quiet. Quiet enough to hear your own feet hitting the pavement, like a private dance between you and God: foot, cane, foot, God. No, better: God, foot, cane, foot. He is determined to lead!

A Rarity: An Open Church Gate

So God leads me on. First through the New Gate on the northwest side of the Old City, into the Christian Quarter; then another 100 yards or so and it’s a right turn, heading around a half mile southeast toward the Jaffa Gate, mostly down hill (thank God). Now the joy begins. Walking through the Christian Quarter is like moving through a maze: you walk about fifteen yards and then turn right, not knowing what awaits you just around the bend. Another twenty yards or so and you turn left, what surprise awaits you–only God knows. As you make your way along one “holy” corridor after another, looming church walls, to your right or to your left, rise up into the skies. For the most part, the church gates are locked up, barring one from an “unholy” intrusion. But God never bars us out, does He.

But one need not walk alone in the streets of the Old City (nor in any other city). For God walks with us. But walking the Old City makes His presence easier to sense. Maybe it’s the solitude (i.e., the empty streets). Too much noise can drown out the voice of God. And when God’s voice is drowned out, it’s hard to talk with Him in any personal way. Maybe it’s the mystery (i.e., the unknown twists and turns). Too much structure can squeeze out the surprises of God. And when God’s surprises are squeezed out, it’s hard to see Him for who He really is.

There is nothing like solitude with God. For that’s when His mysteries appear. Try it sometime. You don’t have to be walking in the Old City. But it does help.

Israel 2011, #2: A Momentous Day at the Beach

I grew up on the beaches of Southern California. The beaches always meant warm, sunny days, searching for the best waves to surf on. And, of course, it also meant searching for the best bodies to wave at (well, what else can you expect from a group of unbelieving eighteen year old boys: hormones and lookouts). But this past June 7th. I was introduced to a whole new beach experience.

Finally, we arrived at the beach. The weather was a perfect 80 degrees, with a soft gentle breeze blowing in our faces. After winding around in the beach parking lot, passing row after row of cars, like ants waiting in line for their lunch, we found our “little” parking spot. We walked “slowly” down a double flight of stairs, to the open beach–miles and miles of porcelain white sand and the soft breaking waves of the Mediterranean Sea. We had just arrived at Rishon Le Zion Beach, located along the central Israeli coastal plain, about seven and a half miles south of Tel Aviv. What a perfect day for the beach. But what made the day perfect was not the setting, beautiful as it was, but something far more momentous. It was the day of the immersion (baptism) of two Israeli brothers.

20110615-012429.jpg

When two brothers get baptized in the states is not unusual, but, here in Israel, it is momentous. In fact, when any Israeli comes forward to be “immersed,” he is making a public confession that could have dire consequences from all who know him. So, in the first place, what does “baptism” mean to Israeli believers? The Hebrew word “tevelah” means “immersion” or, in Christian settings, “baptism” (a term not used here in Israeli congregations because of the church’s history of forced baptisms of Jews, even some they intentionally immersed until they drowned!). Second, what then is the significance of a public “tevelah” in Israel? Each of these two young brothers, one sixteen and the other nineteen, had spent several months in biblical instruction from their parents and their congregational leaders on the meaning of a public “tevelah.” Now, in essence, they were saying, “Okay, Lord Yeshua [Hebrew for "Jesus"], here I am! Do whatever you want with me, come life or death; come the loss of my family, my friends, my co-workers, even my fellow-soldiers! You died for me! I will live for you!” It sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it. Kind of like the first century! Kind of like the New Testament (see Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 9:1-30, esp. 23-25, 29-30; Rom. 6:1-4ff.; etc.). But these two committed young Israelis were not alone.

Let’s backtrack a bit. Remember when I told you how we walked down a double flight of stairs to the beach? Well, what I didn’t tell you was this: The first thing our eyes fell upon was around a hundred young Israeli believers, mostly high school and junior high school ages. They had descended from all over Israel, to this beautiful beach, on this particular day for one, and only, one reason: To shout hooray in Hebrew for these two brothers! (“Hooray” in Hebrew is “Hooray”–
I guess.) And they hugged and kissed ["holy" ones!], shouted and sang songs of victory, and prayed for an hour or so (I lost track of the time). The boys then shared theirs personal testimonies. Then the elders committed them to the Lord and His kingdom service. And down to the water we marched, singing and rejoicing the whole way. No wonder, so many of beach bathers came up to us and asked, “What’s going on? You guys seem so happy.” What a chance to share the good news of the gospel, in Hebrew and in English (and who knows what other languages). After the immersions, back to the tables for food, fellowship, and worship again! And this kind of celebration is going on all over Israel on a regular basis, but especially among the young. To God be the glory!

Oh, I almost forgot. One final momentous “amen” to the day. One young Israeli, a single mother with one daughter, was so moved by the Holy Spirit, by the boys’ personal testimonies, and by the joyful worship, that she also came forward to be dedicated and “immersed.”

20110615-012638.jpg

Now that’s what I call a momentous day–from a momentous Lord! “O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge [who trusts] in Him!” (Ps. 34:8).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,343 other followers