Asaph and Me
At the age of 33 I was a Jewish physician living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I had finished my medical oncology training at M.D. Anderson Tumor Institute, Houston, Texas, and was already board certified. I had been in private practice in medical oncology for more than three years, and my practice was successful beyond my wildest dreams.
I was happily married to an incredible woman (who was also Jewish), and we had two terrific children, a girl and a boy. We lived in a large, beautiful new home with a swimming pool. My wife and I both drove new cars, and we had been accepted in our new social circle.
We were as happy as any couple we ever knew, and our lives were almost storybook perfect. Why, then, did we keep asking each other, “Is this all there is? Isn’t there something more that we’re missing? What in the world could it be?”
We tried to get more involved in the social life of the medical and Little Rock communities. We tried disco dancing along with its associated night life. We tried getting back to our Jewish roots and being active in the temple and Jewish organizations. But everything we tried seemed empty. The Jewish traditions did little for me. In fact I felt hypocritical, since I was an agnostic/atheist and didn’t know who, what or if God was!
In my medical oncology practice, I had seen much pain, suffering and death. I couldn’t explain why bad things happened to so many seemingly good people. It began to take its toll on my emotions. To compensate, I became as unemotional as I could, both professionally and personally.
About that time I developed optic neuritis in my right eye, and overnight I lost most of the vision in that eye. I feared that it would spread to my left eye and my career would be over; my life as I knew it would dramatically change. I became angry and cursed God, if there was a God.
“Who are you? What are you like?” I asked. “Why are you doing this to me when so many people to whom you gave cancer depend on me? You must not exist!”
That night I abandoned God. I told Him that I could never believe in Him until I could understand His ways and the reason for all these terrible occurrences. Little did I think that I would find answers.
My life and health stabilized. During that time I met many patients who seemed to have answers for their difficult circumstances. They didn’t have the anger toward God—as I had—that I would have expected. They trusted Jesus, they said, now and for their eternity. They tried to tell me about him, but I rarely listened. If God existed, He had allowed terrible illness to happen to them, yet they still worshiped, loved and followed Him. How ridiculous! Yet I envied my patients for their faith. Anyhow, what did it matter? Jesus was not for Jews, only gentiles.
I was searching for truth, but I didn’t know or even realize it. I desperately needed answers. My wife was going through a similar process, but I was unaware of her struggle. Who ever talked about such things? Who even knew the words to ask the appropriate questions?
Then one Saturday evening we heard from our eleven-year-old daughter that a Jewish physician friend of ours and his family were attending a church. I was outraged at his turning his back on his Judaism (although by that time my family and I had quit the temple and all Jewish organizations!).
I immediately called this friend to confront him. He kindly told me that he had found his Judaism and the God of Judaism at that church. He was now, for the first time, truly proud and excited to be Jewish. I was shocked but curiously intrigued. I asked if we could attend church with him the next day.
I so vividly remember that Sunday morning, October 19, 1980. I was anxious as I walked into the worship service. The church was meeting in the gymnasium of a local private school, so it didn’t seem so “churchy.” I expected that we would be identified as Jews and outsiders, but people only noticed that we were newcomers and seemed genuinely thrilled that we were visiting.
The service began with a baby dedication, and we heard, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” What was the shema, the holiest prayer of Judaism, doing in a Christian church? Soon the preaching began, and the sermon was from Psalm 73 in the Hebrew Scriptures. It was about a pious Jew, Asaph, asking God why good people suffer and evil people prosper. Why did evil seem to win out over good? What purpose was there in keeping God’s laws and ways?
I couldn’t believe the topic. How did they know that I had the same questions and no answers? I sat there and listened as the Psalmist explained the seeming paradox. The answer was that God sees all from an eternal perspective, and we see everything from an immediate, present viewpoint. Those who believe and belong to God will have prosperity for eternity (but not necessarily in this life), while those who do not belong to God will spend forever with nothing. What they have now is all they will have for all eternity.
I can never adequately explain what happened to me that day. I walked into that church an agnostic/atheist/skeptic, and I left knowing that God was real, good and worthy to be loved and worshiped. Now all I had to do was discover who He was.
Could it really be this Jesus? I hoped it wasn’t. I wanted so desperately to discover that the God I sought could be found in normative, modern Judaism. I wanted to know this God and follow Him, and I would, no matter what or where I found Him. It would just be so much easier if I didn’t have to become a Christian.
We left church and spent the next three hours with our physician friend and his wife. They explained to us how Jesus (Yeshua) had fulfilled all the ancient prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the future Messiah of Israel. They tried to explain the Trinity, that it was not three separate gods (which, of course, as a Jew I could never believe) but one God manifesting Himself in three different ways or forms.
These friends also made me aware of another problem I knew nothing about—sin. Modern Judaism had long ago stopped teaching about separation from God due to sin. My friends showed us that throughout the Scriptures, God was very much concerned with personal sin and the sins of the Jewish people. He had given very explicit means for us to stay in right relationship with Him. The trouble was that we had long ago stopped following His prescription, and now we were sick. The cure was in following His son Jesus, because he could cleanse us of our sins.
It all made sense—so much so that I visited with several rabbis, hoping that they could show me the fallacies of my friends’ argument. They tried valiantly, but I found their explanations flawed and shallow. For the most part, rather than addressing the issues and my questions, they tried to make me feel guilty about considering Jesus.
The more my wife and I studied and spoke to Christians and attended my friends’ congregation, the more we wanted to have this oneness with God. To have that, they said, we had to confess that we were sinners and repent (turn away from our sins). Nothing we could do (such as good works and deeds) could rid us of our sins before God. Only believing in Jesus and his death (and resurrection) for us was capable of cleansing us of our sins.
Finally in December 1980, my wife and I made separate personal decisions to follow Jesus as our Lord and Messiah. It was the best decision we ever made. Now we had truly found our Judaism and felt complete. Now we not only knew the God of our forefathers, but we also knew His son and experienced his Holy Spirit living in us.
That changed our lives, our marriage, our relationship with our children and my practice of medicine. Our perspective on everything is different now. Our lives have meaning, fulfillment and contentment. Jesus has filled the enormous void that we previously had—a void that money, possessions, position, status or power never could and never would fill.
Jesus was the answer to our questions. If you don’t know him, I pray that as an intelligent, rational individual, you will not reject the answer before you even ask the questions!