For Jews in some parts of the world, suffering has been an especially intimate part of life.Havurah asked three Jewish believers, from Eastern Europe, France, and Israel, to reflect on Jesus and Jewish suffering.
Judit believes in the existence of sin. She’s certainly seen enough of it to be convinced.
As a child, she escaped Nazi Germany on one of the final Kindertransports. Today, if she closes her eyes, she can see the growling faces and hear the catcalls of peasant children who pelted her with curses and stones as the train passed through the local villages on its journey out.
In England, she survived the Blitz. After the war, she married a nice Jewish man who gave her two sons and then died suddenly, leaving her to fend on her own for herself and her family. She remembers that not many fellow Jews in the UK were quick to help her because she was, after all, a German Jew, and we all know about them. “Scratch a German Jew deep enough, and you uncover, well . . . a German.”
Judit made her way to Canada where she miraculously found the mother who had abandoned her to the Kindertransport. But her mother had built a new life for herself, and it didn’t include a reunion with a grown child who had children of her own.
The next stop was America, where she married a kindhearted widower who could never love any woman except his deceased first wife. Judit spent the next fifty years in a loveless marriage, haunted by another wife’s ghost.
So Judit believes in the existence of sin. She also believes in God, and she clings fervently to the belief that He will punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous.
The only problem is, Judit counts herself as one of the righteous because of all the evil that others have done to her. Her definition of sin is simple: sin is what she’s endured all her life at the hands of sinful people. With no real coaxing, she’ll tell you not only about her past that’s genuinely sorrowful. She’ll also tell you how, despite everything else, she’s always done nothing but good to everyone, no matter how much suffering they’ve brought into her life. Absent from her thinking is the notion that she might be guilty of any wrongdoing of her own.
Judit is a genuine victim. The problem is, she’s not an innocent victim, and neither is anyone else. Are the evils that she has endured God’s punishment for her sins? No. Evil is the consequence of a world that’s exploding with sin, and all of us are hit by the shrapnel. But our victimization notwithstanding, all of us are guilty of our own sin. All of us are responsible for the sufferings that the Messiah bore on our behalf. There is only one innocent victim, and his name is Yeshua. “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).
We need to repent of our sins that caused his suffering. But often, the more we’ve been victimized, the easier it is to be blinded to that truth. What can tear away the veil of that particular form of spiritual blindness? Only two things: the proclamation of the gospel, and a conviction of personal sin brought about by God’s Holy Spirit. I live and labor for that day.
I live and labor for another day—the day when God will pour out His convicting Spirit upon the inhabitants of Berlin, Budapest and Warsaw; of Munich, Nuremberg, Krakow, Bucharest and Prague. I look and labor for the day when God will convict the inhabitants of the cities throughout Central and Eastern Europe where so many of us died. And when that day arrives, we’ll rush in—not with words of condemnation, but with words of grace and hope, with the message that Jesus the Jewish Messiah forgives and rescues all of us not-so-innocent victims from the judgment that that we deserve because of the sufferings we’ve heaped upon him.
Avi Snyder is the European Director of Jews for Jesus.
*Portrait by Lajos Tihanyi (1885–1938), Woman in Red with Green Background