“If the Jews are Abraham’s descendants, then we would expect them to have a state of their own. But what do we see? We see them living among us scattered and despised….”1
“If the Jews were ever to reestablish themselves in the Holy Land, [I] would be the first to go there and have [myself] circumcised.” 2
— Martin Luther
In Martin Luther’s day, the Jews were dispersed all over Europe and parts of Asia. The sense of the Jews being different from everybody else eventually fed into the horrors of pogroms in later centuries. Luther’s frustration, that his Jewish neighbors seemed so resistant to his evangelistic efforts, finally sent the pious advocate of Reformation theology into an odd rage against the rabbis, in his old age.
But what would Martin Luther think today, considering the events that have taken place in the Middle East over the last century? Would he scowl and double-down on his discontent with the Jews? Would he eat his own words, and make the journey to the Middle East, and take the surgical knife upon himself? Would he judge the legitimacy of such a nation state based on how well she treated her neighbors? Or would he be more cautious, and puzzle more… and even marvel… over why so many of these dispersed peoples have made it back to their ancestral land?
A Plea for Generosity in the Zionism Debate (Like Other Debates)
Despite one’s views about Zionism, the fact that the Jewish people continue to live and thrive today, despite their hardships throughout history, should serve as a sign of amazement at the purposes of God. It did for vampire novelist, Anne Rice, when she left her life as an atheist, because of what she saw with national Israel:
I stumbled upon a mystery without a solution, a mystery so immense that I gave up trying to find an explanation because the whole mystery defied belief. The mystery was the survival of the Jews…. It was this mystery that drew me back to God. (Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, 308-309)3
If you have been following me so far in this rather long series of blog posts, you might be frustrated that I simply did not just come out and tell you exactly “where I stand” regarding Israel. And that is part of the point I want to make. Sometimes we as Christians can get obsessed over finding a high degree of certainty regarding some Bible topics. The problem is that an impartial analysis at times can be difficult to come by, and the conclusions we sometimes come up with are far from self-evident.
Frankly though, I get distressed in these types of debates, as I do in other controversies, on topics that often divide Christians. I know of people who feel compelled to leave a church because of the church leadership’s supposed “stand on Israel.” That seems really tragic to me. How many people who get so emotionally charged up about this issue really take the time to listen to what the other Christian believer is saying? Do we really know why someone thinks the way they do? Perhaps the other person, with whom they disagree, has discovered something in the Scriptures that we need to learn from and that we need to hear?
The mystery of Israel in history would surely have surprised Martin Luther, just as it did vampire writer, Anne Rice. Yet instead of celebrating the profound mystery of God, sometimes believers today will claim to have completely comprehended that mystery, chastising fellow believers when they do not see things exactly as they do.4
We can do better than this.
In my next few and last blog posts in this series, I want to take a stab at making a tentative conclusion. I am in no way claiming to have understood the mystery myself completely, so I welcome your feedback.
1. Quoted by messianic Jewish scholar, Michael Rydelnik, on a debate with partial preterist Joel McDurmon, with American Vision, on the Moody Radio’s “Up For Debate” program, May 21, 2016.↩
2. This was quoted by Lutheran scholar Heiko Oberman, a referenced in a talk given by Roanoke College scholar Gerald McDermott, at the 2015 “People of the Land Conference” (minute 14 to 15).↩
3. Anne Rice’s book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, was made into a recent movie, entitled The Young Messiah. Anne Rice has recently withdrawn her support of much of institutionalized Christianity, primarily over the issue of same-sex marriage, largely in response to her son’s admission that he is gay.↩
4. HT goes to Minneapolis pastor John Piper, for this one. Piper and Jews for Jesus director David Brickner models for believers what I think is a healthy dialogue between believers who disagree about Zionism, in this series of Christianity Today magazine brief essays in 2012 (#1, #2, #3, #4).↩