Part 5: Why Does Israel Still Matter?
As I mentioned last time, it was the Jew Albert Einstein who said the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. It was also Einstein who first discovered the deep inner logic hidden within nature in which light (energy), space-time and matter are bundled together in relationships.
In other words, relationships are behind everything.
That God is detached from creation and that the universe is mechanistic is the kind of dualism that the great Scottish Theologian TF Torrance disliked most. Torrance believed that throughout the pages of the Bible we meet a Triune God who is personally and deeply related to the cosmos by His word and through His Spirit.
This deep and personal relationship is seen especially and uniquely in the Incarnation event where the Triune God came to us personally. Torrance famously states that there is no other God behind the back of Yeshua/Jesus. That in Yeshua/Jesus, God came among us as one of us and He has pledged Himself to us for our sakes, not His own, that we could share in the triune life of God.
Btw, the idea of plurality within the Godhead is not foreign to Jewish Theology. In the 1977 book, “The Two Powers in Heaven” by the Jew Alan Segal and Michael Heiser’s, “The Unseen Realm” examine this fact in more detail. See Daniel 7:9-14 for a glimpse at the two powers…
“The Ancient of Days and one like the son of man”…
First, a few words about the bigger picture. It’s become clear to me that the scriptures describe a plan to have a cosmos filled with free human and spirit beings who would voluntarily love and be devoted to God without coercion. These individuals would willingly submit to processes that result in the formation of character so hardened against sin and harmonized with their creators, that throughout all eternity the cosmos would be filled with free human and spirit beings who will always choose life.
In order to carry out this plan, choices had to be made and God chose first… one of those choices was Israel.
The $10 word for the idea that God makes choices is “election” and it’s a controversial, bewildering and offensive subject. By the way… like the other articles in this series, these are my “Cliffs Notes”…. and like the others, this installment is in no way meant to be a be a comprehensive treatment of this enormously important subject. These are just my own thoughts as I’ve read, studied and thought about it.
To paraphrase St. Paul, we all see through fogged up glasses, consequently we can have a narrow and confined understanding of choice when it comes to God doing the choosing. We think of choice as exclusive… I can go this way or I can go that way. And while it can certainly seem exclusive, this narrow view has resulted in some pretty disturbing pictures about who God is. Most of those creepy ideas, when you boil them all down, start with exclusivity… some folks are in and the rest are out.
This is why men like Pastor Mark Driscoll, for instance, once preached to his congregation that God hates some of them and how the great Rev. Jonathan Edwards could preach his famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, with pictures of a God who dangles certain people over the flames of Hell like spiders by a thread… a God who “abhors them and is dreadfully provoked”.
Both of these perspectives flow from the same view of “election” and result in very disturbing pictures of God’s character. I’m bringing this up because, as we’ll see later on, a lot of the folks who see election this way, are the same folks who think Israel is out and the Church is in.
While the principle of “election” can be challenging, it discloses a deep and incredibly beautiful pattern. An unspoken but discernible “inner logic” hidden not only within the bible but within all of creation that helps make the ways of God intelligible to us.
Here it is: There are the elect and then there are the elect within the elect. That’s sounds really exclusive doesn’t it? These ideas can appeal to our pride because we like exclusivity. We like gated communities, closed groups, private schools and clubs… we like a favored status.
To get a mental picture of this “elect within the elect”, consider a recurring sequence in the bible; the way God moves from one to many then back to one within the many. Within redemption history it looks like this: Abram, one individual chosen from among the nations who, btw, would later become known as Gentiles… Abram the one became Israel the many individuals. Then, from within Israel the many, God narrowed it down to Judah the one. Then as Judah became the many, in the fulness of time Yeshua (THE ONE) was born, and then from Yeshua back to the many.
This is what Theologians call the pattern of divine reversal and it’s how God planned for Yeshua to undo the damage done through Adam. The genius of God’s plan is that it’s always been about the many, but to pull it off He started by choosing one.
“For God so loved the many that He sent THE ONE…” John 3:16-17
“For as in the one man Adam the many died, so in the one Yeshua the many shall be made alive”. 1 Corinthians 15:22
I know how this can sound, and although there are valid biblical reasons to hope all will be saved in the end, I’m not a universalist and I’m not saying this pattern means every individual human being will be saved. At the very least it means God’s mercy has reached all of mankind. Similarly, “all Israel will be saved” does not necessarily mean that every individual Jew will be saved although there are valid biblical reasons to hope. At the very least it means that Israel, as an entity, will acknowledge Yeshua/Jesus as its Messiah.
In Romans 9, St. Paul begins a dense description of election that concludes in Romans 11. Academic Theologians say it’s the most condensed and sustained theological train of thought in the Bible. You really have to put your thinking caps on, it’s not light reading.
Within those dense chapters are plenty of opportunities to get lost and to misinterpret the thrust of Pauls argument by putting a few pieces together isolated from the larger picture. This is especially difficult for us today because, as a culture, we’ve developed such short attention spans.
Romans 9-11 is all about Gods election of the community of Israel and St. Paul states emphatically that both God’s gifts and His calling are permanent… final… irreversible, despite their rebellion and sin.
Election is God doing the choosing because He knows the end from the beginning. He chose Israel because He wants Israel… and through his covenant with them, the whole cosmos will belong to Him without coercion. On first glance the election of Israel seems exclusive, and, in one sense, it is. But in the larger scheme of how God will redeem the universe, while it seems to begin with exclusion it culminates with inclusion… the plan has always been totally inclusive.
Theologians sometimes refer to the idea of “election” as “The scandal of particularity”. It’s a scandal because it’s so particular and it’s got something in it to offend to everyone, the chosen and the unchosen. But there is one thing we want to avoid when we think about this topic and that’s not to confuse “election” with favoritism. It’s easy to do with verses like “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated”. Yes, God chose Israel as his key to redeeming the world, but let’s not forget, it’s been an excruciating and agonizing ordeal and Israel has suffered like no other people, which is one reason the modern State of Israel is full of so-called atheists. Their atheism is a thin disguise for a deep offense at God for His historic dealings with them.
We prefer a God who is more egalitarian… what we think of as fair. We want a level playing field, a God who doles stuff out equally. Well, God is like that with some stuff, like the rain falling on the just and unjust. But when it comes to things like how He’s going to redeem the cosmos, God chooses and when He chooses, especially from within a family, it makes a lot of people envious and angry. Ishmael & Esau are two examples of men who felt the sting of not being chosen or being skipped over and what crept into their hearts as a result is still playing out in history today.
The fact is, when God chose Abraham it wasn’t because Abraham persuaded Him. There is nothing in the narrative of Genesis 12 that indicates there was something about Abraham that attracted God to him. God simply made a choice and Israel has had to deal with the consequences. What we have to do is trust God’s choices… and that can be difficult if you don’t know or trust His character. Luckily, we only have to look at Yeshua who informs us what God’s true and full character is. Hebrews 1:3
Take a look at Romans 5:20 and Romans 7:5. These verses provide some insight into a design feature hidden within the redeeming genius of God. St. Paul wrote that the law came in to increase the trespass… that the law stimulates a sinful response… by design. I think the election of Israel works the same way. By design, the election of Israel has provoked a reaction not just from within Israel but from the nations, reactions that were predictable and necessary for how God was going to redeem the world. Sort of like every action resulting in an equal and opposite reaction. God knew what the reactions would be and His plan took those reactions into consideration and He devised a way to include them in his ultimate plan of redemption.
Let me zoom out. In order to include all of us in their triune life, God made a series of very specific choices; choices about a particular time, a particular place, a particular method and a particular people all leading up to the actions of a very particular person. Divine election has the following structure. The Father, Son & Holy Spirit decided to share the life they enjoy together with created spirit and human beings who are free. Knowing the events that choice would set into motion, it was decided that in order to include all of us God needed to predestine us for adoption as sons and daughters before the foundation of the world and for that to happen, the eternal Son would need to be slain before the foundation of the world to preemptively deal with the inevitability of sin. (Revelation 13:8 and Ephesians 1:4-5.) These decisions were made before the Principalities and Powers existed… so no one but the Father, Son and Spirit knew about these choices and they became the foundation of the foundation. 1 Corinthians 2:8-9
Next time we’ll take a look at an even smaller and more central pattern… the one represents the many. This is the pattern that helps us understand how Israel continues to bear witness to God even though the State is secular and most of the population isn’t even sure there is a God let alone the idea that they missed their visitation.
Next in Part 6: Why Does Israel Still Matter? How does Israel continue to point the world to God?