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...the sad thing is that you cannot be a Christian and take the Jews seriously at the same time. Or, if you can, it is a very very difficult thing to do… (Not Even the Rain, on Spengler’s Forum)

The spiritual man is able to endure a duplication in himself; by his understanding he is able to hold fast to the fact that something is contrary to the understanding, and then will it nevertheless; he is able to to hold fast with the understanding to the fact that something is an offense, and yet to will it nevertheless; that humanly speaking, something makes him unhappy, and yet to will it, etc. Kierkegaard, Attack Upon “Christendom”

Being a Christian and simultaneously taking Jews seriously is indeed a very difficult thing to do. How can one be a Christian, summon all near and far to honor the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, and even so affirm that Jews who have not yet recognized this Messiah, do so rightly? Why “endure the duplication,” the contradiction?

On the late afternoon of June 10, 1967, an ordinary boy was cleaning out the family van (It was something like this one; take his word for it: ’60s vans were not near as “cool” as today’s vans.) Fields on the south and west stretched in the distance. Some miles beyond would have been the Great Dismal Swamp, reputedly the only place in America where one could hunt bear inside of city limits. It must have been warm, it was, after all, summer in the flat tidewater lands of Virginia.  Some of the details are equally hazy—was he listening to a “transistor radio”? He must have been, he must have heard it on the 4 o’clock newscast: The Israeli army had captured Jerusalem! (The records say it happened on June 7. Remember, this is pre-internet America. News took a while to travel.)

Why would an country goy kid, who had never known a Jew in his life (outside the pages of the Bible) be elated over the return of the Jewish people to their holy city? It would be twenty years before he knew about and understood the implications of the cry of hope that ends every Passover Seder, and says goodbye to the sukkah: L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim! (“Next year in Jerusalem!”) What investment did he have?

Because the country lane led to a straight road, and down that road, in a small white Christian meetinghouse that he attended at least three times a week (every night during revival meetings or vacation Bible school), he had been taught that “salvation is of the Jews.” The Jews were God’s people, God’s plans for his people had not been annulled through long years of wandering, and God was yet at work in this fallen world. The goy kid exalted because the events had shown that the preachers in that meetinghouse had not lied. Inside the mysteries of history was gestating a greater mystery: “Your redemption draweth nigh!”

Why do Christians need Jews to assure themselves of the veracity of the promises of salvation? We have almost 2000 years of Christian history. However, already in Kierkegaard’s Denmark of 1850, the 1800 years were getting stale. In a society where everyone was a Christian, no one needed to  become a Christian, which, Kierkegaard pointed out, was precisely the necessary thing as a Christian. Christendom has done away with Christianity,” was his pointed warning. Yet that is not our current situation. Christendom itself has vanished. Which means we are once again free to be Christians, to believe, to trust, to hope. Even so, we must not forget that hope seen is not hope, to be saved is to be saved in hope.

Almost a century ago, Franz Rosenzweig predicted that in a post-Christendom world, Christians would have to learn hope from the Jews. When Christians could no longer see the kingdom of God adumbrated in the kingdoms of this world, they would have to learn to look for the kingdom through the eyes of the Jews. Christians, stripped of the 1800 years of Christendom, would be free to see as Jews see. For their own 1800 years, Jews had to be faithful without the comforts of temporal power. Christians likewise must now recall what they should have always known: the kingdom is not of this world. And so it has turned out to be.

Of course, since that warm Saturday forty years ago, history has not been kinder to the hopes of the Jews than it has been to the hopes of ultramontane Catholics, ethnic Orthodox, or evangelicals who have identified the eschaton with the manifest destiny of the United States. The fulfillment of ancient longings is not the fulfillment of eternity. We still can only pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Yet it remains to be said: Christians pray because Jews pray. Christians pray in the name of Jesus Messiah; Jews pray in the hope of the Messiah they do not yet name. We have given the Messiah a name (we have been given his name), but that we hope for this Messiah, we owe to the Jews. Therefore, together we pray in hope.

Rosenzweig made another prediction: the new age of hope would not need a new church, but live inside the old churches. Again, so it is: even though our old churches too often intimate a stink of death, we live in hope. Praying the old prayers—Veni, Creator Spiritus—we await new life.

That’s why I—a country goy who heard the stories about God’s chosen people among the Virginia pines—take Jews seriously.



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