You think you know, that you've heard it all. But can you imagine a supposedly Christian man using an endearing tone of voice to refer to his Jewish girlfriend as my little Christ-killer"?
You're horrified, of course. Who wouldn't be? I certainly was as my friend Naomi (not her real name) related her story over the bagels, cream cheese and lox she had provided for our Saturday brunch. Sitting at my dining room table I felt my jaw drop and was glad that l had swallowed my mouthful of bagel.
Naomi explained that she had been deeply in love with this nominally Catholic man ("nominal" is my word—what did she know from nominal? As far as she was concerned he was a Christian.) who appeared to be joking but in the end did not marry her because she was Jewish.
You might think that such a brutal statement from someone ostensibly trying to express affection would forever "turn her off" to Christianity. But that was not the case.
I met Naomi at the dog park. I had no idea she was Jewish; I only knew that she was the first person who seemed interested in discussing anything beyond our pets. This was an answer to prayer as I felt sure God had given me a dog and brought me into the community of dog lovers to share His love and a knowledge of His Messiah.
Naomi seemed intrigued when I told her that I am with Jews for Jesus. And when I found out that she, too, is Jewish, she confided in hushed tones that once, when she was at a low point in life, she had a strong sense of a divine presence and it popped into her mind that "this is Christ." "Well," she said, "of course I was horrified because…well, you know.…" She couldn't seem to finish the sentence.
"Yes," I said, "I know we are taught we are not supposed to believe in Jesus."
"Exactly," she said. "But still, I want you to know that I never forgot that experience and never minimized it."
Now despite the anti-Semitic boyfriend and everything Naomi had learned about why Jewish people should not believe the religion of those who hate us, she was sitting in my house—partly because we have dogs in common but partly because she was curious about my belief in Jesus.
"I think I am pretty open-minded," she said, "but I am tired of all these right-wing Christians telling me that I am going to hell if I don't believe in Jesus. I believe in a loving God."
"Um, Naomi, there is something I need to tell you."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I hope I haven't offended you."
"Well no, I am not offended, but you might be. I don't want you to be misled about what I believe. You know that I am a Christian. But do you know why Christians say that no one can go to heaven unless they believe in Jesus? Because I can't separate myself from those who say that."
Naomi said that no, she didn't, so I asked if she would mind if I explained it. She was curious and so I talked about the rift the Bible says sin causes between God and all people, regardless of their background or religion. I said that I, too, believe that God is loving, and that in His love, He provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him. That way is the logical conclusion of the system He gave in the Torah, where an innocent animal was sacrificed as a substitute, as an atonement.
"Naomi, I need to be honest with you that I believe that Jesus is the way that God provided, the perfect sacrifice that the earlier animal sacrifices were pointing to. I don't think I am any better than those who don't believe as I do, and neither do most Christians that I know. We've all sinned and we all need God's forgiveness. It's just that if it's true, if Jesus is God's provision for us to be with Him, we don't have the right to say there's any other way. And it would be unloving not to tell people about it."
Now you might think that would be the end of my friendship with Naomi, and I supposed it could have been. But Naomi chose not to be offended. And she pointed out something that I wish more people could understand. "I see what you're saying," she said, "and there is a difference between believing that there is one way and degrading people who don't believe as you do. What you said is not degrading to other people."
Do you know, there are some Christians who don't understand what my as yet unsaved Jewish friend was able to articulate? Some people are afraid to say that Jesus is the only way because they fear others will accuse them of intolerance. Naomi is a woman who has experienced intolerance. She knows what it is, and what it isn't. And she taught me something. When you risk a friendship by putting your beliefs on the line, you really get a chance to see what the other person is made of. And the other person gets a chance to consider a belief that previously, they only thought they understood.
Christians need to realize that in many instances, people have a choice of whether or not to be offended—and that being offended is sometimes just a way of being in control. Naomi had a choice, and she chose to pursue understanding rather than to shut down communication.
As Naomi left she mentioned that she didn't often have opportunities to discuss these types of things, and she hoped we could do it again. As of this writing we have plans to get together for lunch at her house. However, Naomi has an illness that often causes fatigue, and so her plans are subject to change. I hope you will pray for God to continue working in her heart, that she will one day know that Jesus willingly gave His life to pay the price for all our sins…and that she will find new life in Him.
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