Tell me, Avi, Arnold asked, “has anyone ever threatened to kill you because of who you are?” He wasn’t asking out of morbid curiosity, nor was he inquiring about dangers I might have encountered as a missionary with Jews for Jesus. He wasn’t really asking a question but preparing to make a statement.
Arnold wanted to tell me that here in the former Soviet Union, society is plagued with the disease of anti-Semitism. As a Jew who had grown up in Ukraine, Arnold knew anti-Semitism firsthand. But, sadly, he mistakenly believed that it was the result of the “Christian Bible.” His question was an indictment.
He stared at me through eyes filled with grave disappointment and disapproval as he repeated, “Has anyone ever threatened to kill you because of who you are?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m not a stranger to hatred.” Briefly, I told him of my own encounters with violence. Then I said, “But these acts were not committed by anti-Semites.”
Arnold pulled in his breath and started to speak with a rapid, unconcealed contempt. “Will you make excuses now? Will you tell me that these Christians really weren’t anti-Semites—that they were simply misguided or misinformed?”
“No,” I countered softly. “I’ll tell you that they weren’t anti-Semites, because they were my fellow Jews.” Arnold’s expression became still and cold—almost unreadable. In that silent gap, as he apparently wrestled with the twist of information I had just given him, I added more for him to think about.
I said, “I’ve been threatened, and I’ve been attacked just because of who I am—a Jew who believes in Jesus. Will I excuse my opponents’ actions because they were misguided and misinformed? Yes, I will.”
Arnold sighed deeply and said, “My dear Avi, I am fond of you. But I must tell you something. Those Jews who did those things to you were quite possibly correct.”
“Why?” I asked.
Arnold took a tone of renewed patience with me. “Because,” he began, “they were trying to protect us from the harm that you are doing. Certainly you don’t mean to do harm, but you are, Avi, my friend. You are.”
“I’m doing harm by telling our people that our God wants to forgive us of our sins? I’m harming our people by telling them about our Messiah?”
“He is not Moshiach,” Arnold countered reflexively.
“Then,” I said, “you should not be telling me that my attackers were ‘quite possibly correct.’ You should be telling me that they were completely correct. If Yeshua is not the Messiah, then what I am doing is more than regrettable. It is disgraceful and destructive and as wrong as it can be, and nothing I do should be tolerated in the slightest bit. If I am wrong and Jesus is not the Messiah, then I am a false teacher in Israel, and the Torah, the Law of Moses commands that you have no pity on me. In fact, the Law commands…”
“I know, I know,” Arnold pre-empted. He waved his hand, telling me that the words didn’t need to be said.
I felt, however, that I needed to say them—that Arnold needed to hear them spoken out loud.
“The Law requires that I be put to death.”
Arnold became a little uncomfortable. “Are you trying to convince me to hate you?”
“I’m trying to tell you that there is no middle ground on this issue. If I am wrong…”
Again Arnold broke in. His voice was strong, but soft. His words were a plea for moderation. “Avi, I know you mean well. And I respect you.…” He left his sentence unfinished as I started to shake my head.
“Forgive me, Arnold,” I said. “You don’t have that choice. You must decide whether I’m right or wrong. If I am wrong, and if you honestly believe that my message to our people is anti-Semitic, then you should align yourself with those who have tried to stop us with methods that you deplore. But if I’m right, you should believe in Jesus, too, even though so many of our people will misunderstand.”
Arnold understood the simplicity of my logic. Perhaps, to his thinking, my logic was overly simple. He inhabited a universe that acknowledged few absolutes. Yet one of those few absolutes was the premise that Jews must not believe in Jesus.
“I am afraid for you, my friend,” Arnold said after a moment. “I am afraid that in fifty years, if you have any success, our people will spit upon the name of Avi Snyder.”
“Arnold,” I said, “are you afraid for me? Or are you afraid for yourself, if you should come to believe what I’ve discovered to be true?”
A few minutes later, Arnold excused himself and left. Our parting was as polite as the conversation had been, but neither of us said what we both knew—that this would most probably be our final meeting.
There was nothing more to say. Despite Arnold’s pleas to me, I was not about to stop my activities. And despite my pleas to him, Arnold was not willing to consider the claims of Yeshua. We had reached an impasse. There was no place to go except our separate ways.
Today impasses and absolutes are not welcomed by many. Whether in America or in the former U.S.S.R, most of us would much rather temper our beliefs and accommodate our actions in order to avoid the unpleasant result of incurring disfavor. Yet the gospel leaves little room for navigating on a sea of accommodation. Either Jesus is the Messiah or He is not. Either the gospel is true or it is a lie. Either the tomb was empty or it was not. Both points of view cannot be correct.
And if Yeshua is not the Messiah, then no one should believe in Him or follow Him. If He was merely a man, then to worship Him in the manner He requires amounts to an act of idolatry for both Jews and Gentiles.
But if Yeshua is the Messiah, then we all must believe and obey. Yeshua said to those who would rather not choose, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).
Sometimes there simply isn’t any middle ground!
Editor’s Note: The above, written some time ago, tells of one rather sad encounter. We praise God that in contrast, our weekly reports received from the former Soviet Union indicate a good, steady harvest of new Jewish believers. The accounts are so numerous that it would take up the entire Newsletter to print them!