Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
I don’t understand anti-Semitism, and don’t believe I’m afflicted with it. That’s no credit to me, any more than I should pat myself on the back for not having cancer. Anti-Semitism is a cancer, an inexplicable blot on human consciousness. It’s different from every other prejudice—none are as deeply rooted or pervasive. Many decent, talented individuals harbor the disease, including personal acquaintances. For example:
• Someone I know subscribes to online newsletters that regularly report the supposed nefarious doings of “Zionist agents.”
• Someone else I know believes that today’s so-called “Jews” are actually descended from the Khazars of far-eastern Europe, who appropriated the Biblical heritage of the chosen people and have exploited it ever since.
• Someone else I know always sides with the Palestinians whenever violence breaks out in their region. Whatever happens, Israel is to blame. Those who present a more balanced view are, according to this person, either blindly partisan or sadly ignorant.
The collective fever called anti-Semitism has many facets. It can be racial (They’re an inferior subset of humanity); political (They control the world’s secret levers of power); economic (The banking system is their tool); religious (Christ-killers!); cultural (Who runs corrupt Hollywood?)—or any combination. Now playing, on every continent, history’s longest-running hatred. God Himself is an anti-Semite, according to some.
God shaped them into a people who would bear His mark forever. As such, they would make an outsized impression on the world. How could they not?
If certain passages in Scripture could be torn out of context and pieced together in an ugly patchwork, you could make that case. But the Bible as a whole tells a different story. It tells the story, with God as the protagonist and Israel his constant foil.
It began with an old man under the stars, challenged to count them: “... and so shall your descendants be.” Two generations later, a flawed man wrestled with an unknown adversary on a riverbank and received a new name: Israel, or He-struggles-with-God. The story theme emerged: Israel struggled, God contended—and vice versa. Wrestling His people every step of the way, the LORD taught them, corrected them, restrained them, delivered them, delighted in them, grieved over them, and shaped them into a people who would bear His mark forever. As such, they would make an outsized impression on the world. How could they not? Those entrusted with the very oracles of God (Romans 3:2) are specially blessed and specially cursed.
The prophesies of Isaiah encapsulate the story from God’s point of view: His wrath and His mercy continually shifting, sometimes in midsentence, from righteous judgment to gracious reconciliation. Throughout Isaiah, a personality emerges that a modern-day psychiatrist might label “schizophrenic.” But the repeated reversals capture what we might, in human terms, call God’s dilemma: “The Lord of Hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16). He can’t be holy and righteous without judging. And He can’t judge without holiness and righteousness. But, “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people” (Isaiah 65:2). Every parent with wayward children knows that tortured love. What to do—let them in to wreck the house, or lock them out?
There is a third way: “For unto us a child is born. …”
The Jews, as a whole, do not accept their Father’s unexpected solution. Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, agonized over their rejection but perceived in it a divine means of opening the way for all nations, as Isaiah predicted. Therefore, Paul warns us Gentiles, don’t be proud or hateful. God will not uncall those He originally called. Anti-Semitism testifies to that very calling.
In his spiritual autobiography, The Great Good Thing, writer Andrew Klavan describes his struggle with history, especially the Holocaust, as the last hurdle of a secular Jew coming to Christ: “The Jews are ‘chosen’ in the sense that God selects them as his doorway back into the world after the separation of the Fall. As such, they represent all people everywhere, a microcosm of what we are like in relationship to God.” All Christ-killers, all connivers, all contenders, but none forgotten.
God will gather His own, Jew and Gentile alike, in Christ. And “all Israel will be saved.”