I can’t remember my exact age, but I was sitting in a synagogue service that was designed especially for children (ages four and up). It was Rosh Hashannah and the reader spoke the words, Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Psalm 24:3, 4a)
I was an impressionable child. I looked down at my hands; they were clean. Then I tried to look into my heart and somehow, even at that age, I realized it was not pure.
Soon after this experience my grandfather died, and I was told I’d never see him again. “Where did he go?” I wanted to know. I received a vague answer about heaven being for good people and hell for bad ones. From that time on the thought of death terrified me.
As I grew up, I tried to be a good Jew. I went to Hebrew school and observed all the mitzvot (laws) and customs that my family observed (and a few extra!). At my Bar Mitzvah, I not only recited the maftir and haftorah portions, but I chanted the entire sedra (weekly portion) from the Torah scroll. I conducted the morning service too, acting as a thirteen-year-old cantor. After that, I was called upon regularly as a Torah reader, and I began singing in my synagogue choir. I was really trying to be good.
However, my fear of death continued. I thought, “What if there were no God, then death would be total and complete nothingness.” I asked God to prove His existence so that I might know whether or not heaven was real, but I received no answer.
In college, one of my best friends was an atheist, but he called himself an existentialist. His philosophy was simply that there was no God, no meaning to life and that the individual had to make his own purpose in life. This made sense to me.
I was a music major and had shown some talent and promise as a bassoonist. I reasoned that I would make music my purpose in life by becoming a great bassoonist.
I had been the best bassoonist from Minnesota while in high school. I was studying with the first chair bassoonist from the
Boston Symphony, and I had been playing in the Boston University Symphony Orchestra while just a college freshman. Then my world of music began to crumble. The conductor of the orchestra suddenly demoted me to the second orchestra. My bassoon teacher no longer was satisfactory to me. The only solution seemed to be to transfer to another school where my talents would be better appreciated.
Before I did, however, I had a talk with my roommate. While he was a talented clarinetist, music wasn’t his whole life. I asked him why he didn’t get depressed like I did and he said, “I have this relationship with God …and He takes care of me.” My roommate told me of how God had answered his prayers. I was amazed and overjoyed. “Then you mean that God is really there?” I wondered, even though he was a Christian, if his God who answered prayer wasn’t in fact the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
My roommate took out his Bible and began showing me some of the prophecies about the Messiah. The words that I was reading weren’t unfamiliar to me at all. In fact I knew them quite well, for the composer, George Frederic Handel, had set them to music in his oratorio, Messiah. Little did I realize before this time that Handel’s lyricist for the choruses “For Unto us a Child is Born” and “Surely He Hath Borne our Griefs,” as well as the aria, “He was Despised,” was the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had written these words some seven hundred years before the birth of the One Christians believed to be the Messiah.
But I was a Jew, and Jews couldn’t believe in the Christian God. “If God does exist, then I want to be a good Jew,” I reasoned. Yet my need to know the truth was too strong for me to dismiss Jesus without a look at who He claimed to be. I borrowed my roommate’s Bible and read the New Testament books of Matthew and Mark. I was moved by Jesus’ teachings. Later, while reading the Gospel of John, I was impressed by the promises of eternal life. While it was inconvenient for me to find out that Jesus was the promised Messiah of my people, I came to a place where I knew it was true.
Music still plays an important part in my life, but instead of being an idol that I serve, it has become for me a natural expression of worship—worship of the one true God of the universe.
Yeshua (Jesus) has given me a pure heart to go along with my “clean hands.” But not only that, he has “put a new song in my mouth” as well. This song is not futile or purposeless but instead a “song of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:3)