The State Of Israel At Twenty-Five

Israel is unique among the people of the earth: its national tradition goes back some thirty-five centuries, to the Exodus from Egypt, and its sacred history even further, to the first parents of the human race. Israel’s singularity includes, according to its prophets, a special relationship with God: “You only have I known among all the families of the earth,” says the Lord, and he adds the momentous line, “therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2).

In purely human terms, Israel is rare indeed in having preserved a national continuity for so many centuries, during which time powerful empires and brilliant civilizations have risen and fallen. And it is unique in having survived almost twenty centuries of unbroken subjection to foreign powers and of dispersion among the other nations of the earth—the subjection dating from the occupation of Israel by Pompey the Great in 63 B.C. and the great dispersion from the conquest and destruction of rebellious Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. (The period of the Maccabees excepted, Israel had been under foreign control since Nebuchadnezzar.)

The last days of this dispersion were marked by a persecution unparalleled for its implacability and thoroughness, the Nazi holocaust. Yet only three years after the destruction of Adolf Hitler’s misnamed Thousand Year Reich, an independent Jewish state was reborn in Palestine. The reestablished state of Israel has run through twenty-five years of history. Begun in defiance of a seemingly overwhelming hostility on the part of the Arabs of the Middle East, Israel has won three wars and withstood the military, economic, and propaganda assaults of adversaries many times its size. Yet the adversity shows no signs of letting up. The surrounding Arab nations consider themselves at war with Israel, but after three sanguinary military defeats at its hands, they confine themselves chiefly to observing the actions of terrorists against tourists, diplomats, athletes, and others who cannot defend themselves as Israel can. Israel, a highly organized, modern, technological, and socialistic state, strikes back from time to time with a ferocity and effectiveness that may be understandable but that seems to many to transgress the limits of civilized international conduct. And the hostility between the Arabs and Israel is cruelly exploited by great powers with scant concern for the well-being of either Arabs or Jews.

Christians around the world have always had a special relationship with the Jewish people and their religion, and it has all too often been marked by tension, misunderstanding, and mutual hostility. Many ostensibly in the Christian camp seek to mitigate the ancient tensions by abandoning the preaching of Christ to the Jews; evangelical Christians, on the other hand, seeing in Israel’s return to the land the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, often adulate the modern state of Israel and its citizens and neglect to recognize that a people can contribute to the fulfillment of God’s historic plan while its members remain indifferent to his calling to them as individuals. Admiring in modern Israel the courage, determination, and decisiveness that we miss in our own sleek foreign and domestic policies, many Americans fail to recognize that a determinedly pro-Israel stand may not always correspond to justice and frequently—as oil-producing Arab nations are seeking to make clear—may not work to our own national interests either.

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As we contemplate this milestone in modern Israel’s history, we pray for its leaders and people a double measure of wisdom and courage for the conduct of national policy, and the grace of God’s Holy Spirit to recognize in a personal way the call of Jesus Christ. And for the Gentile nations, we pray for wisdom and integrity in dealing with the conflicting claims of justice, race, and religion, centering on soil so central to God’s history with mankind.

Time To Reap

From time to time we have urged evangelicals to use every legitimate means to get the Gospel of Christ to people. Elsewhere in our pages (News, page 39) is an account of how this is being done effectively through the medium of film.

World Wide Pictures’ latest film, Time to Run, has met with great response. By mid-April nearly 100,000 viewers had signed cards to say that they had accepted Christ, had rededicated their lives, or wanted further help. There is a real spiritual need; people are searching, and they will respond to the Gospel. We had better reap while it is harvest-time.

Very few evangelistic films have been shown in commercial theaters, perhaps not because the theaters would not have them but because those available have been few in number and, often, mediocre. The good reception of Time to Run by theater audiences and its acclaim by secular critics may be a turning point.

The medium is not the message in this case; it is outside and above the medium. It can be carried through the ear gate and the eye gate in a number of different ways. World Wide Pictures is not in business to entertain or to make money. Its purpose is to present the Gospel of salvation through film, and this it has been doing with increasing effectiveness.

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Time to Run will certainly not receive an Emmy award or be shown at the Cannes film festival. But there are thousands of people (the film has been seen by more than 1.3 million) who are thanking God for the salvation they were led to receive by viewing it.

Snakes And Strychnine

The religious snake-handlers are in the news again (see News, page 44), and this time their activities have included drinking the deadly poison strychnine. Sure enough, the poison did its work. Death emerged victor over gross stupidity, bad biblical exegesis, and falsely grounded faith.

In the temptation of Jesus, Satan challenged him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, quoting Scripture to the effect that God “will give his angels charge of you” and “on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus rebuked Satan by saying, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” That is exactly what these misguided people are doing.

The snake-handlers fail to take with equal seriousness the last part of Mark 16:18, whose first part (“they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them”) they claim as their basis for handling snakes and drinking poison. That second part says, “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Their sick did not recover, unless they count death recovery. Sane counsel should suggest to them that since they have not healed the sick they had better reconsider handling snakes and drinking poison.

One could have real sympathy for them if these things happened inadvertently, while they were attempting to preach the Gospel to the whole creation. But they have never left Tennessee to do that. Until they do they ought not tempt God, who refuses to be mocked.

The Troubled Truce

For some years the American people hoped Southeast Asia would disappear from thought and sight. They heaved a dull sigh of relief when the truce arrangements were concluded in Paris and it appeared as though a shaky peace between North and South Viet Nam had been established. The relief may have been premature. Recent developments scotch optimism that the matter has been permanently settled.

Canada’s peace-keeping delegation has charged Hanoi with violating the Paris agreement. This charge is indubitably true, and the violation is in no sense unexpected, given Communist ethical attitudes. South Viet Nam is not invading North Viet Nam, nor is it bombing the north. The south is still being barraged by the north.

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Hanoi is also trying to topple Cambodia, and as usual China and Russia provide armaments to do the job. The United States has been bombing in Cambodia, and the familiar voices have been raised in the U. S. Senate to warn that the Cambodian action could bring about another Viet Nam. This is, of course, very improbable. President Nixon took four years to disengage from Viet Nam; that he would repeat the performance of his predecessors is highly unlikely.

No one needs a crystal ball to predict that Southeast Asia will remain a boiling cauldron for some time to come. The Communists have not surrendered their objectives, and they will not fail to take whatever steps they can, legitimate or illegitimate, to take over all of that area. World opinion means nothing to them. The only language they understand and respect is sheer force. But since the United States has relinquished force in Viet Nam, it is unlikely to apply it again against Hanoi.

If what has happened since the Paris agreement was signed is any index for the future, Hanoi and Saigon will probably meet in a decisive confrontation that will determine whether Saigon can go it alone. This it must do, without further American intervention.

A Quick Step Backward

Last month it was disclosed that in 1971 a branch of the National Institutes of Health recommended government approval and financing of medical experiments on still-living recently aborted fetuses. An immediate hue and cry was raised by many of those who, at the time of the Supreme Court’s strange abortion ruling (Wade v. Roe, et al.), had warned that such callous disregard for elemental human rights would soon lead to further exploitation of helpless human subjects (see the editorial “Another Little Step,” April 27 issue). With singular and appropriate speed, spokesmen for the National Institutes announced that such experimentation is being neither performed nor contemplated. (In Britain, fetuses are so used.) We can certainly be grateful for this announcement, which precludes, for the time being at least, one of the grislier possible consequences of our nation’s new abortion policies.

At the same time, we cannot be sure that the NIH decision has definitely eliminated the danger we foresaw. Articles immediately appeared in the press warning that it “imperils essential research.” And we cannot avoid the suspicion that the decision could have been based on expediency and an attempt to avoid controversy rather than on ethical principle. Unless and until legislation is adopted to grant a measure of protection to helpless human life, we have no reason to expect that those who would like human subjects for experimentation will not soon try again. First, however, we can expect a media campaign to desensitize the general public and soften it up to the idea that such experimentation is indeed “critical” and urgently “required.”

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Whether such a campaign will be engineered by special-interest groups or simply result from the disordered moral values of a large segment of the intellectual community will probably not be easy to determine; we suspect, however, that the campaign will be evident soon enough. The present “step back” does nothing to protect the unborn from destruction by abortion: it merely specifies that the process may not be unduly prolonged and scientifically exploited. The cardinal error lies not in the use of the dying fetus after abortion but in the mentality that accepts the right to order abortions, in the words of Justice White’s dissenting opinion, “for any reason, or no reason at all.”

History Humbles

Kudos to Sydney Ahlstrom for winning the National Book Award (equivalent of a Pulitzer prize or an Oscar) for A Religious History of the American People. The annual awards are given in ten categories. Ahlstrom won in philosophy and religion. Another largely religious book, The Children of Pride by Robert Manson Myers, which was based on the voluminous correspondence among a Southern Presbyterian minister’s family around Civil War times, shared the prize in the history category (see editorial in our July 28, 1972, issue, page 25). These books were the only two winners to come from a single publisher, Yale University Press.

Ahlstrom’s book won top honors in CHRISTIANITY TODAY’s annual survey of church-history books (March 2 issue, page 28). For a major review of the work see page 18 of this issue.

Although Ahlstrom is not a conservative evangelical, he is a practicing Lutheran layman, and he tries to be scrupulously fair in dealing with the tremendous diversity of religious beliefs in American life, from the most pedestrian to the outrageously bizarre.

For one who has finished such a major undertaking, Ahlstrom is becomingly modest. He does not pretend to be free of any philosophical tendencies of his own but describes himself as “broadly Hegelian” (as was the famous evangelical historian of the last century, Philip Schaff), with modifications from the early Marx, Weber, Croce, Troeltsch, Dilthey, and H. Richard Niebuhr. Moreover, in his acceptance remarks he acknowledged that “historical work is itself a Sisyphean labor. Each generation of historians revises the interpretations of its predecessors. History humbles; and I know that both my work and this award will in due course (and maybe very soon) take their place in critical estimates of our own span of time.”

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Christians need to encourage the kind of scholarship that recognizes its own limitations. Unfortunately, too many of the recognized intellectuals in the evangelical community of our time display the very opposite of humility in their writings and their personal demeanor. One of our editors worked as a student, dissertation advisee, and teaching assistant under Ahlstrom for a number of years. The learned scholar’s willingness to converse with—even to ask advice of—one whose views are rudely dismissed as “fundamentalist” by so many in the academic realm was a continual reminder that most truly great intellectuals do not manifest the arrogance of so many of their less gifted imitators.

Spring Fever

This season of the year affects people in very different ways. Tennyson, as everyone knows, described spring as a time when “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Browning thought it a time of optimism, when people tend to overlook faults:

Songs, Spring thought perfection,

Summer criticizes;

What in May escaped detection,

August, past surprises,

Notes, and names each blunder.

Dictionary definitions of spring fever note widely varying symptoms: languor, laziness, and listlessness in some, rejuvenation, yearning, and restlessness in others. Perhaps the only accurate generalization is that spring intensifies feelings, whether good or bad, positive or negative.

Perhaps the most acute form of spring fever is that which brings on depression, and this can afflict the Christian as well as the unbeliever. New life appears everywhere except inside us. Nature is on the move again, but we feel static and stagnant. We even get “weary in well doing.”

Can a Christian do anything to accelerate his “bottoming out” and becoming productive again? The carnal man looks for temporal answers: a new job, a new home, a new spouse. The truly Christian answer is a reliance upon the Word of God and the God of the Word. Paul, writing to the Galatians, urged them not to be weary in well doing. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he assured them that “in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

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The Reverend Elmer Sahlberg, a veteran missionary in Thailand under the Christian and Missionary Alliance, stoutly maintains that although people disappoint him from time to time, he has never actually been discouraged. And he credits trust in the Bible’s promises as the thing that keeps him optimistic. Total commitment to divine revelation prevents him from letting circumstances get the best of him.

For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it [Isa. 55:10–11].

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