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If Christ Is Risen, Then...

 How genuine belief in the Resurrection affects commitment to evangelism

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Ruth Gottlieb: A Poignant Life. Paris: Juifs pour Jésus. 45 mins. In French with English subtitles

Ruth Gottlieb does not seem to be significantly different from any other octogenarian one might meet—other than her remarkable sharpness of mind. But then she begins to tell her story, one of sorrow upon sorrow. From the loss of nearly all her loved ones to the horrors of the Holocaust, Ruth has seen more suffering in her life than most of us can begin to imagine.

Interviewed at her home in France in 2013, Ruth details her life during and after the rise of Hitler. Born in Berlin in 1925, she was sixteen when her parents were deported to a concentration camp. After a year on the run as part of a resistance group, she and her compatriots were captured in Italy by German soldiers. Among those seized was Ruth's husband, Aaron Gottlieb, to whom she had been married for only eleven months. Aaron was executed immediately, while Ruth was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she remained for many months, ill and starving, until the camp was liberated. As she relates these incidents, Ruth's tone is noticeably matter-of-fact and her demeanor, detached. Clearly, these memories are too painful to engage on an emotional level.

Ruth goes on to describe her life after the war. She moved to Paris and fell in love with a Sephardic man; they were planning a future together when he suddenly died of an embolism. Later, in Israel, she married Paul Sandelbaum. They had a happy life until Ruth's older daughter Myriam died unexpectedly. A few months later, due in part to the shock of Myriam's death, Paul also died.

By this time in the interview, Ruth's tone is no longer detached or distant. Her grief is apparent in the way she averts her eyes as she speaks, in the long silences as she remembers the loss of so many whom she loved.

Yet Ruth's story is about more than pain; it's about hope.

In the final part of the film, Ruth recounts how she and her remaining daughter, Judith, embarked on a search for truth. Moving to France, they explored everything from crystal-gazing to hypnosis to Buddhism, each looking for something to fill the void in their souls.

One day, as Ruth was walking along a seaside promenade near her home, she overheard some friends speaking about religion. One of these friends, a Christian, invited Ruth into the conversation and told her about Jesus. Ruth, still fully engaged in her search for truth, was intrigued.

Over the coming months, as she continued to converse with her friend and to read the Bible (including the New Testament), she came to realize that she had found the truth she had been searching for. She learned that it was possible for her to make a commitment to Jesus and yet remain fully Jewish.

Though suffering had been the hallmark of the first sixty years of Ruth's life, when she speaks about Jesus, there is no trace of regret. Her eyes light up and her voice is strong and confident, full of gratitude. To see that even after a life filled with the most anguishing sorrows, God can restore joy and peace through relationship with himself—this is nothing short of a miracle. Ruth's story is certain to be an encouragement to all who hear it. For those who wish to share the good news of Jesus with others in their life, particularly those who object to faith on the basis of the suffering in the world, this film might be a good starting point for conversation. After all, if Ruth Gottlieb can believe in God's love and redemption, then perhaps even the most hardened among us can find faith.

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Jesus and Jewish Suffering: an Israeli Perspective

Suffering is international and cross-cultural. It is something that unites all human beings, because we all experience it at one point or another. Therefore, suffering is not specifically Jewish—although in Jewish history there has been a great deal of suffering.

My country, Israel, was birthed from the pain of one of humanity's greatest experiences of suffering, the Holocaust. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, said: "The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution."[ 1 ]

Today, Jewish suffering continues, both in the diaspora with the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and even in Israel, the Jewish homeland, where we are always ready for, even expecting, war—not just against our external neighbors but also internally against terrorism.

Maybe it is ironic that most Jewish people in Israel do not feel compassion over Jesus' suffering, even though they know how painful suffering can be. For the most part I find non-believing Israelis to almost feel comfort in the knowledge that Jesus suffered. It is an attitude of, "I am glad that Jesus suffered, because we have suffered in his name—therefore he deserved to suffer."

This statement comes from ignorance, yet it also has some truth in it. John Stott, in his wonderful book The Cross of Christ,writes these words:

It is wonderful that we may share in Christ's sufferings; it is more wonderful still that he shares in ours. Truly his name is "Emmanuel," "God with us." But his "sympathy" is not limited to his suffering with his covenant people. Did Jesus not say that in ministering to the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner, we would be ministering to him, indicating that he identified himself with all needy and suffering people?[ 2 ]

Yes, Jewish people have suffered in the name of Jesus. But the most amazing thing is that God came in the incarnation as Jesus, and chose to suffer and ultimately die for us. Our people have endured suffering. And Jesus' suffering was endured for us, and in spite of us.


Dan Sered is the Israel Director of Jews for Jesus.


[ 1 ] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, various editions.

[ 2 ] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IL, InterVarsity Press, 2012), p. 326.

Jesus and Jewish Suffering: a Perspective from Paris

If one were to give a hard and honest look at the heritage of Israel's heroes, one would be forced to concede that it is not a triumphant past. Moses, at his apogee, came down from a holy mountain experience only to be "welcomed" by collective and unmitigated disloyalty in the shadow of the infamous golden calf. David, when he was anointed king of Israel, subsequently became the nation's most wanted outlaw—a fugitive and a mercenary. The prophets' popularity (or lack thereof) is well known, even to the most casual of Bible readers. According to tradition, Isaiah died by being torn in half. Jeremiah's tears still stain the pages of Scripture in his famous Lamentations, no matter the edition or translation. According to Yeshua, there was in fact a psycho-spiritual accumulation of suffering from the first tzaddik (righteous person) to the last, culminating in his own generation.[ 1 ]

Would it not then stand to reason that the Messiah, the epitome of prophetic hope and the greatest of prophets, would suffer in proportion to, and in honor of, all those that heralded his coming? It is a well-known Talmudic understanding that God's shekinah (presence) accompanies Israel in its diasporic meanderings, partaking of the woes of God's people. How much more should the Messiah, as the consummate representative of Israel, understand Jewish suffering from without as well as from within. Therefore, Isaiah's vision of the Suffering Servant is timeless and portrays a model not only of biblical sorrow, but of Jewish pain throughout the ages.

As Dan Sered points out in an accompanying article, there is no exception to suffering. Pain reaches everyone, from the highest to the lowest strata of society; it respects neither customs nor language barriers. According to writer Cormac McCarthy in his screenplay for the film The Counselor:

"Grief transcends value. . . . you cannot buy anything with grief because grief is worthless."[ 2 ]

McCarthy is philosophizing on the tragic consequences of our own stupid mistakes: we are our own greatest undoing. Most, if not all of us, suffer the fate we have unwittingly designed for ourselves. Many of the greatest tragedies in literature have plots built around this very theme.

Very few suffer completely innocently—or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet this has been the situation of the Jewish people. As Sholem Aleichem's character Tevye the Dairyman put it, regarding the situation of the Jewish people, "God I know, I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't you choose someone else?"

We Jews are always "in the wrong place at the wrong time." This is the history of anti-Semitism. Sholem Aleichem was able to comment with humor and artistry on the many examples of frustrated grief among nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewry during the pogroms. But the next chapter in human history (and specifically Jewish history) would leave no room for such artful expressions of grief.

The culmination and crossroads of this new experience of human suffering was the Holocaust, or Shoah. The Shoah birthed a new dimension to the already multi-dimensional experience of Jewish suffering. It did so, ironically, by diminishing the already limited value of "grief" (McCarthy). In the Shoah, Jews no longer had any value as human beings. They were transformed into things. Nazi persecution set Jewish genocide above other kinds by declaring the Jew a non-entity. Jewish people no longer had souls, hearts or intrinsic human value. So they were recycled into grease, gold and other raw materials.

For the first time since the Enlightenment, diabolic evil had quantitative value. Leon Uris discovered this during his two years of research on the time that intervened between the Holocaust and the foundation of the State of Israel. In Uris' novel Exodus, Ari Ben Canaan says to Kitty Fremont: "Jewish flesh is cheap, lady. It's cheaper than beef. It is cheaper, even, than herring!"

As one reads the New Testament, one is confronted with the tragic nature of its protagonists, beginning with the Messiah and continuing with his disciples. The sweetest man, the champion of the weak and disenfranchised, is the one who suffers the most. Richard Wurmbrand was a Romanian-born Jewish believer in Jesus who survived the Holocaust, only to be locked in a Communist prison where he was tortured for fifteen years. His first reaction to reading the story of Jesus was realizing that Jesus died during Passover. He reflects,

"Chad Gaya is a poem sung by every generation of Jews for thousands of years on every passover. After Jesus' death on the cross, Mary knew when she sang the song . . . everyone gets a punishment for what they have done, but there is only one who was completely innocent (the little kid) who gave his life for everyone of us and that such a sacrificial death will end in resurrection."[ 3 ]

Perhaps Jesus' most famous teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). At the crux of this exposition on suffering and piety is the curious statement, "Whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22).

Finding a reasonable equivalent translation for the Aramaic word raca[ 4 ] has been difficult. Many translations leave it as is; according to some Bible dictionaries, the term raca simply means "nothing" or "emptiness." Yet, says Jesus, every soul has infinite value. And according to what James calls the "royal law,"[ 5 ] Yeshua teaches that one should love one's neighbor as oneself. Holocaust survivors are among the very few among the billions of humanity who have actually experienced the nullifying experience of raca, this "nothingness" or "emptiness." Yet Jesus counted himself among those "worthless" few, according to Isaiah chapter 53—and also according to Philippians, where we read that "Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself . . ." (Philippians 2:6-7).

Yeshua became a raca in his suffering as the representative par excellence of the Jewish people. But it was not meaningless. Yeshua willingly suffered to bring us salvation.

All people suffer. Why should this be? This is usually a question directed toward the heavens. However, I would like to challenge you to ask yourself the same question. Many Jewish believers in Jesus identify as Jews, yet in all the claims to Jewish identity I have seen in the Messianic Jewish world, very few include Jewish suffering or the experience of real anti-Semitism. Beyond the issues of ordinary pain and anti-Jewish xenophobia, those of us who are disciples of Yeshua should ask, "Does my suffering contribute to God's plans?" Do I suffer for the sake of others, so that others might bring their suffering to the cross? If not, am I really a disciple? Am I really a Jew?"


Joshua Turnil directs the Paris branch of Jews for Jesus.

[ 1 ] Matthew 23:34-36.

[ 2 ] First original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor, Jan 2012.

[ 3 ] Richard Wurmbrand, No Other God, p. 19.

[ 4 ] Raca is used in the midrash to describe the wasted multitudes destroyed by the deluge. The Talmud quotes a woman using raca of a violent attacker. See Elie Munk, La Voix de la Thora, La Genèse (Paris: Fondation Odette S. Levy, 1976), p. 70.

[ 5 ] James 2:8.

The Holocaust

People often describe the Holocaust as the climax of 2,000 years of Christian mistreatment of Jews. Some invoke the Shoah as the ultimate reason for Jews not to believe in Jesus.

Jewish believer Moishe Rosen challenges that view: The phrase '2,000 years of history leading up to the Holocaust' is more than a reference to past prejudice and persecution. It is an indictment against Christianity that misrepresents Christ's message and intent. Anyone who gives credence to such an accusation bestows upon Hitler the power to change theology."1

Neither Jesus nor Christian ideals produced the Holocaust. Those murders were generated by the same perversion of human nature that the holy Scriptures depict, beginning in the Book of Genesis. Cain turned on his own brother and became the first murderer. And while the Jewish people have been singled out more often for genocide than any other people, we are by no means the only group of people to be methodically murdered. Consider the "ethnic cleansing," the systematic rape and murder of the Bosnian people perpetrated in the 1990s. No, genocide neither began nor ended with Hitler and the Jewish people.

Some see the Holocaust not merely as an indictment against Christianity but against God. Many who suffered through the concentration camps either blame God or refuse to believe that he exists.

Such people find themselves in a quandary, ever restless until they know in what or in whom they can place their faith. Will they dismiss God on the grounds that the Holocaust proves him cruel, incapable or non-existent and instead put their faith in humanity? If God is not to be trusted because he permits humans to be cruel, does it make more sense to trust humans when it is human beings-not God-who have proved to be inescapably, or at least repeatedly, corrupt?

Often those who say they don't believe in God because of the terrible acts that have been committed actually try to punish God for what they see as his failure to prevent suffering. What can a person do to show his or her displeasure with God, other than refuse to acknowledge his existence? Yet it is we, not God, who suffer when we deny that he exists and that he cares.

Deep down, most of us realize that we need to have faith in someone or something more worthy of trust than ourselves. If God is "dead," then so, too, is humanity. If we had only each other or ourselves to depend upon, we would soon be reduced to cynical misanthropes.

How much better it is to have faith in the God of the Scriptures, who will see that ultimate justice prevails. Evil people who acted out their own hatred--not God, not Jesus--are to blame for the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Could it be that those who blame God or Jesus or Christianity simply can't bear the awful reality that since history began, human beings from all walks of life have demonstrated the potential to commit any horror imaginable?

Could it be that each person is capable of hatred and that we don't want to face that truth about ourselves?

Jesus called upon all he met, from every walk of life, to face their flawed nature and corrupt inclinations and repent of pride, prejudice and every other evil that can bear the fruit of violence.

It is horrendous that of all names, his has been used to accomplish the exact opposite of everything he instructed. How can we allow this obvious perversion to color our response to his teachings and his claims?

Could it be that blaming Jesus for the evils of the centuries is less painful than admitting the dark shadows that exist in every human heart?

There is no way we can undo the tragedy of the Holocaust. We have no control over what has already happened. We do, however, have the ability to prevent Hitler from continuing to reach us from beyond the grave.

Why should he have the power to prevent us from investigating who Y'shua is? He will only have that power if we give it to him.


  1. Moishe Rosen, "Am Yisrael Chai," Issues 9:4 (1993), p. 2.

This article originally appeared in The Y'shua Challenge booklet.

Where was God When the Six Million Died?

God was mourning over the dead, the persecuted, those whose minds were scrambled with the lust for power.

God was suffering along with every humiliation and each act of violence.

God was weeping over the lost souls who were hurled namelessly into eternity.

WHY DID GOD JUST SIT BACK AND LET IT HAPPEN? WHY DIDN'T HE STOP IT?

WHY? The answer to the question is not snappy, nor is it smug and self-satisfied. It is hard to explain and hard to understand. But it has to do with love that is really LOVE.

God created man to be loved by HIM and to be able to give love in return. Love must always be a choice.

God made man to have the power to choose Peace, to choose Humility and Righteousness…

But man has chosen Hatred, War and Pride.

GOD MOURNS OVER OUR POOR CHOICES, BUT HE WILL NEVER VIOLATE OUR RIGHT TO DECIDE.

In the world that we, mankind, have collectively chosen to live in, it was a set of historical decisions that permitted the Third Reich to prosper. Decisions to Play dumb"…to "not care"…decisions to look upon the misery of fellow human beings as "someone else's business" and not our own.

LIKE CAIN, WE HAVE SHRUGGED AND RETORTED, AM I MY BROTHER'S KEEPER?

We have responded to the privilege of decision-making, with a timeline full of irresponsible choices. And we ask,

WHERE WAS GOD?

Without Jews

Without Jews there is no Jewish God.
If we leave this world
The light will go out in your tent.
Since Abraham knew you in a cloud,
You have burned in every Jewish face,
You have glowed in every Jewish eye,
And we made you in our image.
In each city, each land,
The Jewish God
Was also a stranger.
A broken Jewish head
Is a fragment of divinity.
We, your radiant vessel,
A palpable sign of your miracle.

Now the lifeless skulls
Add up into millions.
The stars are going out around you.
The memory of you is dimming,
Your kingdom will soon be over.
Jewish seed and flower
Are embers.
The dew cries in the dead grass!

The Jewish dream and reality are ravished,
They die together.
Your witnesses are sleeping:
Infants, women,
Young men, old.
Even the Thirty-six,
Your saints, Pillars of your World,
Have fallen into a dead,
an everlasting sleep.

Who will dream you?
Who will remember you?
Who deny you?
Who yearn for you?
Who, on a lonely bridge,
Will leave you—in order to return?

The night is endless when a race is dead.
Earth and heaven are wiped bare.
The light is fading in your shabby tent.
The Jewish hour is guttering.
Jewish God!
You are almost gone.

In the Midst of Sorrow

Each Jew must develop some personal perspective on the horrors of Nazi Germany. Different conclusions have been drawn, and they are reflected in the literature of post-Holocaust Western Jewry. Rather than generalize about various responses, I would like to deal with just one—that of the poet Jacob Glatstein.

Jacob

Jacob Glatstein came to the United States from Lublin, Poland, in 1914. He weathered the Second World War in this country, while Lublin became the site of a large concentration camp. Glatstein had a deep love for his people and the culture of Eastern European Jewry. As the tragedy of the Holocaust became known, he eulogized a lost world—the world of the shtetl, the Yiddish language, and, in his view, the Jewish God.

In a stark poem entitled, Without Jews," he states, "Without Jews there is no Jewish God." God has "…burned in every Jewish face…glowed in every Jewish eye…" But after the slaughter of the Holocaust, who will remain to remember God? His thoughts move onto an inexorable and horrifying conclusion:

"The night is endless when a race is dead.
Earth and heaven are wiped bare.
The light is fading in your shabby tent.
The Jewish hour is guttering.
Jewish God!
You are almost gone."

Glatstein pronounces that a God who would allow six million people to die is either ineffectual or no God at all. And unfortunately his beliefs are shared by many.

The problem of how an all-knowing, all-powerful God could allow suffering in the world He created has been wrangled with by philosophers and theologians for centuries. But let's look for a moment at the reaction another Jewish man had to a similar tragedy that took place centuries earlier.

Jeremiah

I'm speaking of the prophet Jeremiah, who lived in Judah before and during the Babylonian Captivity. He was witness to the sacking of the Temple, the most holy place in the land of Israel, and he saw his people driven from their land. In reading his Lamentations, we can feel the pain he felt as he watched Jerusalem being destroyed, as he saw children die of hunger:

"My eyes fail because of tears' my spirit is greatly troubled; my heart is poured out on the earth, because of the destruction of the daughter of my people..."

Lamentations 2:11

Jeremiah reflects a potpourri of emotions as he looks on Jerusalem. He goes from describing God's motives and his people's sins to questioning and imploring God. But in the midst of his sorrow, Jeremiah can still praise Him. There is a clear distinction between Jeremiah's reaction and that of Jacob Glatstein. Even though the prophet doesn't understand all that God has done, his every word takes into consideration the fact that an all-powerful, all-knowing and, yes, merciful God is in control of the situation.

"For the Lord will not reject forever' for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men."

Lamentations 3:31-33

Such faith in God in the midst of personal and national suffering is not unique to Jeremiah. Imagine how Moses felt as he toiled to lead the Jewish people on a seemingly endless journey out of Egypt, yet his faith remained. They were thankless and faithless but he bore with a whole generation.

Jesus

And let us remember for a moment another Jewish man-the man Jesus of Nazareth. For those who know Him, both as God and man, it's always important that we remember that all the pain and suffering He endured was felt more intensely than it wouId have been felt by any other man. Death by crucifixion was an agonizing and humiliating way to die. Yet, so much greater pain did He feel, for He was God and could have called for a legion of angels to rescue Him. Instead, He chose to die, to suffer, that all might have spiritual life. The unfortunate victims of the Holocaust could not choose to continue their physical lives. But all men can choose spiritual life for an eternity because of God's sacrifice on the cross.

Hate Is Not That Complicated

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, an American Jew writes about his family’s fate in the Holocaust.

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Excerpt from When Being Jewish Was a Crime

The following is an excerpt from Rachmiel Frydland's autobiography, When Being Jewish Was A Crime. The time is 1938 in pre-war Poland. Mr. Frydland, a yeshiva student, has come to believe in Jesus. Inevitably, the time has come to tell his parents:

When I was in the yeshiva, I rarely wrote home, but now I became more convinced that I must tell my parents what had happened. Yet whenever I began to write about my faith, I lacked the courage to be frank and I wrote in an indirect way. They must have guessed, or perhaps others wrote and told them of my experience, because on a certain day, unannounced, my mother came to visit me.

After so many years of separation, she burst out in tears—tears that should have been of joy to see me. However, now they were tears of sorrow because of the humiliations she had undergone from some Jewish people who blamed her and my father for my departure from Judaism." In their deep suffering they went to the hassidic rabbi who advised them to talk with me.

What can one say to a mother who points to the deep wounds inflicted on her by others because of one's behavior? I kept silent for I knew the pain in her heart, but I told her that it was done, it could not be changed, it was a personal matter, and that I had not become a goy.

We went to have our meals in a kosher Jewish restaurant. My behavior and speech were as Jewish as before, and I treated her better than I ever had before. She went home comforted.

A few weeks later my father came and stayed with me. People had told him that when a Jewish person is baptized, a cross is branded on his left arm in the place where he used to put on the phylacteries. My father checked that carefully and saw that there was no branded cross on my arm. He reasoned that if I had become a goy, I should have been given a Gentile name. He looked in my documents and my name was still the same.

What then happened? I explained to him as best I could. In the evening we had a meeting at the mission. My father listened quietly. The next day we went to see Rev. Moses Gitlin, my teacher, and my father found nothing wrong there either. We spent the rest of our time together with several of my sisters in Warsaw.

My father also went home comforted. He was now sure that his only son had not become a goy and had not joined the enemies of the Jews to help them persecute his people. He felt that the Jewish fanatics must be wrong, for his son was not branded with a cross as they had told him, but continued to speak Yiddish and to keep his Jewish name.

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