A Forgetful Messiah?

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A Forgetful Messiah?

During a conversation with a rabbi friend, things got a bit tense. He had been reading a book that I had written, in which I discussed my friendship
with another rabbi, a mutual friend of ours, who was a widely respected elder statesman in the Jewish community. This older rabbi was a great source
of encouragement to me. Periodically he would tell me that he was praying that God would bless my leadership.

In my book I used my great respect for this older rabbi as a case in point for a tension I experience in my theology. On the one hand, as an
evangelical Calvinist I believe that atoning work of Jesus Christ is the only means by which human beings can be reconciled to God. I believe that
people who reject faith in Christ have much to worry about regarding their eternal destiny. At the same time, I was arguing in my book–addressed to
people who share those basic convictions–that we must place our hope in divine generosity. This is how I put it with reference to my rabbi friend:
“I would not be surprised if, when the final encounter comes with his Maker and he sees the face of Jesus, he will bow in worship, acknowledging that
Jesus is the One whom he should have named all along as the Promised One of Israel, and that the Savior will welcome him into the eternal kingdom.”

I had gotten a fairly negative reaction from some of my fellow evangelicals for this comment. They saw me as operating with a much too inclusive
eschatology. But now, chatting with a rabbi who had recently read my book, I was getting it from another direction. He told me that he was “deeply
offended” by the claim that a Jew can only reach Paradise by acknowledging that Jesus of Nazareth is the only true Savior.

“Why can’t you simply leave it where Martin Buber suggested we leave it?” he asked. And then he reminded me of an oft-told story of Buber’s. The Messiah
returns and both Jews and Christians bow before him. Suddenly someone cries out, “Is this the first time you have been here, or have you been here
before?” The Messiah answers: “I can’t remember.”

I told my rabbi friend that Buber’s story doesn’t convince me. Indeed, my negative reaction to that story is as strong as his negative reaction to my
comment about our mutual rabbi friend. That the Messiah, whom I firmly believe to be Jesus the Christ, would not be able to remember the Cross of
Calvary is beyond my comprehension. At the heart of the Christian message is that God’s love for sinful humanity was so great that he sent his Son to the
Cross to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.

I will stick with my trust in divine generosity. I am not going to act like I know who exactly will show up in heaven. There is a lot of room for
mystery in my theology. But I can find no space there for a Savior who has forgotten what happened at Calvary.

10 Comments »

  1. I had gotten a fairly negative reaction from some of my fellow evangelicals for this comment. They saw me as operating with a much too inclusive eschatology. But now, chatting with a rabbi who had recently read my book, I was getting it from another direction. He told me that he was “deeply offended” by the claim that a Jew can only reach Paradise by acknowledging that Jesus of Nazareth is the only true Savior.

    We just can’t win sometimes, can we? Although I have to admit, the minute you described the scene in the previous paragraph, I knew that it would offensive to most Jews, for whom the idea of the Christian concept of Jesus as the Messiah is more than a little scandalous.

    If I may offer another interpretation of your friend’s retelling of Buber’s “I can’t remember” story, I’d say that Jesus (in that story) isn’t so much really forgetting his death on the cross, so much as saying the most inclusive thing possible so that both Jews and Christians can accept him simultaneously.

    Of course, this version makes Jesus into a person who tells lies, and I confess that even such a “little white lie” is troubling to my theology for altogether different reasons.

    But, as with your own description of divine generosity, this is a point at which I’m pretty happy to say that I don’t have all the answers.

    Comment by B-W — May 23, 2008 @ 1:15 pm


  2. Well put. I cannot believe everyone will be in heaven; but, by the Grace of God, I will not be surprised by anyone I meet there.

    Comment by Dann — May 23, 2008 @ 5:38 pm


  3. Hello, Dr. Mouw –

    I agree with your point. I have dear Jewish friends, with whom I have shared long and deep conversations, mostly about the beliefs we hold in common, and yet with the acknowledgment that we differ on whether Messiah has already come.

    One friend suggested that when Jesus returns, the Christians will call it the Second Coming and the Jews will call it the first. When I pray for my Jewish friends, it is that God will reveal His Messiah to them according to His will — and that I may help, not hinder.

    Thank you for your “Musings.” I hear you speak several years ago at the Calvin Symposium on Worship, and I always appreciate your point of view, whether I agree immediately or not. (I’m still thinking about what you said regarding projection of hymns on a screen!)

    Linda Speck

    Comment by Linda Speck — May 24, 2008 @ 3:03 pm


  4. Dr. Mouw,

    As a fellow evangelical Calvinist, I thank you for putting into words, my belief and feelings too. Jesus Christ is the one and only provision for salvation for any and all humans. No doubt, no compromise. … Yet… I also share a particular hope especially for the Jews. I see Paul agonizing over this in Romans 9, 10 and 11.

    Comment by Daniel Vraa — May 27, 2008 @ 10:10 am


  5. Visser t’Hooft, a leader in the World Council of Churches soon after WW II, observed on this troubling question: “I do not know whether Hindu can be saved. I only know that salvation comes from Jesus Christ.”

    Comment by David H. Wallace — May 28, 2008 @ 10:53 am


  6. shame on you chairman mouw…

    http://www.letusreason.org/Current54.htm

    Comment by Mike — May 28, 2008 @ 11:18 am


  7. Walter Brueggemann cites the story from Buber that you cite. See Brueggemann’s text “Theology of the Old Testament.” (See page 403, fn 6). In his review of the story, Brueggemann says that Buber “hoped” to be close enough to God to ” . . . whisper in his ear, ‘For the love of heaven, don’t answer.’” Perhaps God will simply provide his Divine Name in response.

    Comment by Marty A. Michelson — June 8, 2008 @ 10:05 pm


  8. Pardon, I should have written, “Perhaps God wills simply provide *the* Divine Name in response.”

    Comment by Marty A. Michelson — June 8, 2008 @ 10:05 pm


  9. So much as I would like to believe that there will be a second change after death, I have difficulty reconciling that concept with passages such as the Parable of the Ten Virgins and other warnings about the need to be ready for Christ’s return, and the rejection that comes if we are not.

    Comment by Donald Lowe — June 11, 2008 @ 10:18 am


  10. It is incomprehensible to me that the infinite God, the source of all possibility, the unlimited, the unlimitABLE, would somehow limit salvation to belief in a single individual, born in a single time and place, however “divine”, however enlightened.

    In fact, that applies, in my understanding, to the doctrines and central figures of all religions — Islam and Mohammad, Buddhism and Buddha and his doctrines, Hinduism and its gods and divine principles, and so on. It certainly applies to my own religion (which is not Christianity) when it espouses the same conceit of exclusivity as Christianity.

    The only thing I will grant is the universality of certain universal and eternal principles characterizing and leading to the ultimate state — and it certainly must be a single, ultimate state or it would not be ultimate. This is the only way I can make any sense at all of Jesus’ pronouncement translated in the gospel as “except through me…”.

    Comment by David Lewis — June 23, 2009 @ 6:05 am

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