Evangelical argument over Israel

Posted: Oct 09, 2002 12:00 AM
As the name Goldberg might indicate to some of you, I am no expert on Christian theology. And, perhaps contrary to what you might infer from the name Goldberg, I'm no authority when it comes to Jewish theology, either. So if I fail to cross some doctrinal T's or dot some ecclesiastical I's, please forgive me. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out why so many Jews are upset that so many Christians love Israel. Let me explain. Many evangelical Christians take the Bible literally when it says that Jews are God's "chosen people." Quite a few Jews think this too but, surprisingly, fewer than you might think. Anyway, because evangelicals believe this, some of them support Israel out of a bedrock faith that God gave all of the land of biblical Israel to his chosen people. They also believe -and here's the tricky part -that Christ will not return until the Jews have reclaimed Israel and the final battle of the end times begins. According to Christian biblical prophesy, two-thirds of the Jews will die by the final battle at Armageddon and the final third will convert to Christianity by accepting Jesus upon his return. This will begin Christ's thousand-year rule. "The Jews die or convert," explained author Gershom Gorenberg on a recent -and pretty lopsided -edition of "60 Minutes." "As a Jew, I can't feel very comfortable with the affections of somebody who looks forward to that scenario." A liberal political journalist, Gorenberg has written a book, "The End of Days," about the evangelicals who love Israel, but he wants Israel to turn its back on them . There are plenty of pragmatic objections to the support of evangelicals; they primarily take the form of worrying that the support of Christian conservatives in America will embolden Israeli hawks to avoid compromise with the Palestinians. This is a perfectly legitimate argument, though I don't agree with all of it. But it is not the one getting the most attention. What's got so many folks upset is that the evangelicals support Israel for religious reasons. And sure, it'd be nice -from a Jewish perspective -if Revelations envisioned a happier ending for Jews. But, first of all, if you are Jewish (as I am), why should you care what Christian prophesy holds if you don't expect it to happen? And, if it does happen, and Jesus returns to Earth to establish his kingdom, who's to say a few Jews won't listen to him? And if it turns out the Jews are right and the Messiah will show up for his first visit, isn't it possible that he'll have an explanation handy for everyone? No one can say their biblical interpretation will actually bind God's hands at the end of the day, because man is not more powerful than God. In short, leave the details of the end of the world up to God because he's the one calling all the shots. But let's come back to Earth for a moment. Other peoples' religions say all sorts of unpleasant things about non-believers in general or Jews in particular; the only relevant question for us humans is how people translate their theology into moral action because morality is the only thing we can objectively judge. In the past, supposedly authentic Christian readings of the Bible justified all sorts of terrible things be done to the Jews. Call me crazy, but the fact that evangelicals believe the Bible commands them to love and respect the Jews seems like a huge win for the tribe, historically speaking. Only a fool would complain, "Oh, you're just being kind to people because the Bible tells you to!" "60 Minutes," because of its ongoing mission to show Christian conservatives as the downfall of human civilization, portrayed evangelical supporters of Israel as caricatures, incapable of multidimensional thought. But I've discussed this with dozens of evangelicals, and I didn't recognize the people shown on "60 Minutes." Yes, the evangelicals I've heard from believe that Israel has an important place in God's plan and that Jews are God's chosen people. But that's a backdrop for them, a theological context that allows them to see the plight of Jews in a sympathetic light. Most of the ones I hear from are much quicker to talk about Israel as a democracy or an ally -not as the tripwire for Armageddon. And, let's point out there's no shortage of Israelis who believe Israel exists because God intended it to. They only disagree with the evangelicals over what God's intentions are. And that argument is only going to be settled on God's timetable.