Confusion and Rescue
By JIM NICHOLS
I suspect I am not alone in being confused about some topics. Some are personal, but others are larger and, frankly, global. Perhaps if I wrestle with one of them in writing, some clarity may come. Maybe you can offer some aid. I suspect my naiveté on the problem will be obvious. Let me present my confusion and then describe a highly personal event that is just part of the puzzle for me.
In the book of Romans, I am struck by Paul’s back and forth with himself regarding the relationship of Jews and Gentiles and God’s purpose. As a Jew himself, he is clearly promoting Jews as God’s initially chosen people. He proposes, however, that many in the Jewish camp had fallen into a legalistic trap of “correct works” and had missed the point of the importance of faith. Specifically, he is addressing faith in Christ. You will remember that wonderful language of Gentiles being “grafted” into the relationship with God through their acceptance of God’s grace offered through Christ.
I believe I can follow that line of thinking; faith and acceptance of God’s grace are what count.
Fast forward now to 2022. There is a country of Israel populated with many who claim to be Jewish (although there are several types of modern Jews plus several other religions mixed into the population of the country). I am confused about what is behind the United States’ government and some American citizens’ interest in Israel. Apparently, I have missed something here since this was/is a major topic to some.
Specifically, I understand Israel’s historical basis as God’s Holy Land; much of what you and I call the Old Testament is the story backing that concept. My problem is how that translates to today. It would appear to me that the modern Jewish state contains religious concerns and ethnic concerns. Are we seeing the people of God or nationalistic fervor? I gather that within that country there are serious debates as to whether the country should operate leaning on Jewish law or on democratic principles. Which takes precedence? That is, there appears to be a religious stream and a nationalistic stream. (This is not totally unlike the current American story.)
Perhaps my confusion could be helped by bringing it to a more personal level, which happened early in my educational career.
As a graduate student, I was a laboratory instructor. At the beginning of a semester, we had an organizational meeting of the main professor plus all 25-graduate student/lab instructors. One of the tasks was to agree upon a weekly meeting time during which we would plan the coming week’s lessons. Finding a common, no-conflict meeting time was always difficult.
Friday night through Sunday was not a choice. The professor suggested Thursday night, but it was noted that there was a class several of us were taking ourselves on that night. The same problem arose on Monday night. When Tuesday night was suggested, the lone Jewish female in the group noted that she had another meeting that night. It was narrowing down to Wednesday.
During that semester, my wife and I had begun a Bible study small group in our apartment on Wednesday nights. As I waited sweating for someone else to have a Wednesday conflict, there was none. I timidly raised my hand and the professor said, “What’s your conflict, Nichols?” I said, “I have a Bible study that night.” Every student there (a secular group) roared with laughter. Just as the laughter died down, the group’s class clown said loudly and profanely, “Bible class!? Jesus Christ!” Another roar of laughter.
As it quieted, the Jewish girl raised her hand. She kept her hand up while she spoke to the professor but looked at me the whole time. “I know I said I could not come on Tuesday, and I was the only one. I believe I can change that meeting. Let’s meet on Tuesday.” The professor said, “Fine. Next topic.”
For decades I have pondered that exchange. What was the Jewish girl thinking? Was she just being agreeable for the good of the group? Or was it because of me? Could she have been thinking, “He and I do not see God in the same way, but we do see God. My people have been in bad spots many times and have been rescued. Here is my chance to rescue another follower of God. I will do it.”
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain