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.