On Saturday night, September 7th, I ended up having an unexpected, extended interaction with Rabbi Eli Cohen, a counter-missionary rabbi based in Australia (whom I also consider a personal friend), when he commented on a quote from John Stott I had posted on my Facebook page.
To be candid, I was simply posting the quote to edify my Facebook friends, and a mini-debate/dialogue with an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was the last thing I expected, but the dialogue took on an energy of its own, and while I don’t believe for a second that this short, Facebook interaction proves anything in itself — we both have much, much more to say on these subjects, and we are both passionate about our beliefs — I’m posting it to give you a perspective on our respective beliefs as Jews. I also hope it will give you a greater burden to pray for the salvation of our Jewish friends.
There were other, excellent comments from others, but since it wasn’t possible for Rabbi Eli to answer everyone, and since I ended the dialogue once he signed out (since the purpose of the thread was to focus on the Stott quote rather than have a counter-missionary debate), I have deleted everything other than our interaction.
I hope you find it profitable!
My initial post: John Stott: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.”
Rabbi Eli Cohen The profound stupidity in that statement is almost as astounding as your decision to repost it. That statement implies that no one would have reason/ ability/ motivation to believe in G-d prior to the cross?!?!? PLEASE!!!!
Michael L Brown With all respect, this is a ridiculous thing for you to write at this time of the year and way beneath you. Did someone hack your account? (I mean this seriously.) This is one Christian leader giving his own opinion, and he meant it because of the terrible suffering in the world, and so, for this very sensitive man, the question of theodicy is resolved in the cross. I am utterly shocked by your post — and will pray for you all the more! May God grant you true repentance and forgiveness of sins through this very cross during this season!
REC Every breath we take is more than enough reason to believe in G-d and be forever indebted to Him for His Loving Kindness!
MLB Here’s more of the quote from Stott: “I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours….’ ‘The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.’”
REC Talk about creating G-d in your image ….
MLB I really no mean no disrespect or insult, but it boggles my mind that you do not get the point (even if you reject) and, more importantly, that you cannot see how much the Tanakh [Old Testament] and even Rabbinic literature speaks to this directly. Does Isa 63:10a mean nothing to you? Does the Shekhinah [the divine Presence on earth] going into exile with Israel mean nothing to you? Oh, how I long to see the God of Israel open your eyes to His truth!
REC I don’t need G-d to have gastro problems to know that He feels my pain. Perhaps my example is crude, but to me the whole idea of G-d on a cross needing oxygen to survive is crude.
MLB Rabbi Eli Cohen, oh my poor friend. The greatest demonstration of God’s love is shouting to you, and you can only mock it.
REC Isaiah 2:22
REC G-d screams to you to walk away from putting your trust in Jesus and you ignore Him. Jeremiah 10:11
MLB Rabbi Eli Cohen, with each post, you are accomplishing two things: 1) you are demonstrating that there is an inability to grasp this glorious spiritual truth; 2) you are getting more people to pray for your salvation and repentance! So, as painful as it is read your posts, full of passion and yet tragically mingled with misunderstanding, they accomplish a divine purpose that could one day lead you to the foot of this cross that you despise.
REC My simple response is Micah 4:5
MLB But just like our forefathers, the closer God came to us, the more we rejected Him. My simple response to you is Isaiah 53:3-6. May the God of Israel give you the courage to follow Him, even if it means being rejected by family and friends. It will be worth it all!
REC Your words ring hollow dr brown as you ignore the words of Isaiah 2:22 and Jeremiah 10:11.
MLB Isaiah 2:22 and Jeremiah 10:11 have ZERO to do with God drawing near to us in the person of the Messiah. Isaiah 53:3-6 has everything to do with how God will forgive your sins if you repent. As for the golden calf, you ignore the fact that God physically came to earth with two angels in Genesis 18 and interacted at length with Abraham in bodily form — unless, of course, you want to ignore the Torah.
MLB You can make all the claims that you want, but as you study what Torah requires from you at this time of the year, you see you cannot do most of what it requires, because of the destruction of the Temple, and all the endless human traditions that people added to the Torah — in direct violation of the command not to add — cannot replace the fact that something is missing. That is because God sent the Messiah and gave us a better way. It is a rejection of God and His Word to reject His Son.
REC They have EVERYTHING to do with directing worship towards someone who is part of creation and who walked G-d’s earth.
REC G-d wants me to put my trust in Him and Him Alone!
REC Pointing to a man who needed oxygen to breath as someone who is worthy of divine worship is the greatest violation of my relationship and covenant with my Creator!
MLB I worship God and God alone, but you worship Him on your terms, not His. And when He speaks and acts, if we reject His witness, we are NOT putting our trust in Him. That is the whole story of the Tanakh, as surely you know.
MLB Once again, with each post, you illustrate my point. Can you not conceive of a God so great that at one and the same time, this one God sits enthroned in heaven and rules and reigns, fills the universe with His presence by His spirit, and walks among us in the person of the Messiah? Is that God too great for you to understand? Just as you reject the God of Genesis 18 and the God whom the elders saw on Sinai in Exodus 24, you reject the God who draws near in Yeshua.
REC I follow G-d’s clear directives where G-d actually addresses the question of whom we are to worship. None of those passages include a command me to worship an incarnation.
REC I see no difference to worshipping Jesus or the golden calf. None whatsoever!
MLB Yes, exactly so! You see no difference because you’re unable (or unwilling) to see. Also, what do you with the fact that every verb used with reference to worship and adoration of YHWH is also used with reference to worship and adoration of His Messiah in Tanakh? And what do you with Daniel 7:14? No, the problem is not that I had an experience that caused me to depart from the truth — it was God’s grace reaching out to me that brought me to the truth and keeps me in the truth — whereas you have been subjected to a constant repetition of human traditions from the day you were born, making it very difficult for you to think outside of those human traditions. That’s why we pray for you with love and compassion!
REC But then again you had an “experience” and then put your trust in Jesus. Therefore this discussion isn’t going to go anywhere. I think I’ll leave it at this and as you know, I constantly pray for you that G-d help you see the error of your beliefs and help you follow Him as He wants.
REC The bottom line is that anything existing within creation doesn’t deserve the worship reserved for the Creator of all.
MLB So you reject Genesis 18?
MLB Please, please, please. Step back once again and understand that I do NOT worship anything created, nor do any of us here. Better to say you don’t understand what we believe than to continue to repeat the same, irrelevant charges. Doesn’t that make sense?
REC No! I understand very well what you believe.
REC But if it makes you feel better by believing that I don’t understand then that’s fine.
MLB Then why are you raising arguments that have NOTHING to do what we believe?
REC They have EVERYTHING to do with what you are asking ME to DO (direct my worship towards a human being that walked G-d’s earth)
MLB I’m asking you to worship the God of Israel and the God of Israel only — even when He pitches His tent temporarily among us while remaining enthroned in heaven. Period. That’s why when you reject Yeshua, you are rejecting the One who sent Him. (And for those following these posts carefully, it’s clear that you do reject the God of the Torah within the Torah as well by refusing to accept the Scriptures in their plain and obvious sense.)
REC I pray to the G-d of Israel the Creator of Heaven and Earth. If that’s not enough for you and you want me to share the feelings of dependence that I have for G-d and direct them towards a co-inhabitant of this earth, someone who was himself a subject to the Creator, then there’s no difference between what you are promoting and those who worshipped Baal or the golden calf. All your protestations notwithstanding.
MLB First, I urge you to cast off the human traditions that obscure your vision of the one true God. Second, I urge you to worship Him in greater intimacy than you have ever known — even when it comes in personal form, as in Genesis 18. I only want you to know the God of the Torah, the God of Sinai!
REC The one who prays cannot be prayed to!
REC Why don’t we find the Father praying to Jesus?
MLB Once again, you shout for yourself: “I do not understand the incarnation!!!”
REC Believe what you wish about my understanding or lack thereof.
MLB It’s not a matter of me believing what I wish. It’s a matter of you shouting out to us what you do not understand (and I mean no offense in saying that). That’s why I said it’s better to admit your lack of understanding than to shout it out for the world to see.
MLB BTW, in Exodus 32:10, was God praying to Moses, since He made a personal request of Him?
REC By all means feel free to jump in here and tell me (and everyone here) what exactly I am missing about the incarnation.
MLB I’ve explained it repeatedly, even here: We worship one God, and only one God, and He is complex in His unity (as even your Rebbe explained re: the meaning of echad): He sits enthroned in heaven, fills the universe by His Spirit, and at times pitches His tent among us in human form, as He did in Genesis 18, never ceasing to be eternal deity.
REC I don’t know which part of that you think I don’t understand???
REC I still stand with everything I’ve written here ( as I wrote above “your protestations notwithstanding”).
MLB Based on your posts, all of it, since you claim we are not worshiping God, since you ignore the witness of the Torah about this, and since you cannot understand how Yeshua can be fully divine and fully human at the same time.
MLB That being said, to the extent you do understand, you are all the more culpable and guilty in God’s sight. In any case, from my heart, let me thank you for helping stir followers of Yeshua to pray for your salvation and the salvation of many other Jews during these “days of awe” (as you would call them). That is a great thing to do at this time of the year and a source of joy to my heart.
REC At the end of the day, you point to a subject of G-d and direct worship towards him. I won’t follow.
MLB I point to the God of the Tanakh — but as you said (may He change your heart!), “I won’t follow.”
REC And the Israelites were enticed by those worshipping the calf by the shouts EX 32:4″This is YOUR G-d that took you out of Eygpt” I wouldn’t have followed them and I won’t follow you!
MLB So, you ignore all the verses I cited and instead resort to this? But should I be surprised? Again, we are praying for you, even at this moment!! May true and lasting teshuvah [repentance] be yours!
REC They could easily have claimed “We worship one God, and only one God, and He is complex in His unity (as even your Rebbe explained re: the meaning of echad): He sits enthroned in heaven, fills the universe by His Spirit, and at times pitches His tent among us in calf form, as He did in Genesis 18, never ceasing to be eternal deity.”
MLB Of course not. A calf is not made in the image of God, and He never manifested Himself in that way. But He did appear in flesh and blood as a man in Genesis 18, and the Tanakh does point to the divinity of the Messiah. Massive difference, if you care.
REC I couldn’t disagree with you more.
MLB We know that! But I’ll stay with Scripture. You can have your traditions.
MLB One of the titles of the Messiah, recognized by the Talmud and Ibn Ezra, is “el gibbor” [Mighty God] a title for YHWH alone (see Isaiah 10:21). I accept this, you don’t.
REC I’ll stick with Micah 4:5 and Isaiah 2:22 and Jeremiah 10:11 and Deut 4:9-10 and Deut 4:35 and the list is endless.
MLB And none of these verses have ANYTHING to do with what I believe — aside from the fact that I totally affirm them!! 100%!! Also, what do you with Numbers 12:8, which tells us that Moses saw the temunah [form] of the Lord?
REC And “the L-rd is my banner” (the tetragammaton) isn’t exclusively G-d’s name?
MLB Your point? It’s completely irrelevant to our discussion. In any case, you’re refusal to engage all the other verses we have cited shouts out as well that you reject the witness of God in Tanakh.
REC My point is that because a child is called el gibbor [mighty God] that alone doesn’t make him G-d.
MLB The comparison clearly doesn’t work; surely you must see that. One says, “The Lord is my banner”; the other gives the child the name “Mighty God.”
REC Chizikiyah [Hezekiah] means Mighty G-d too (as I’m sure you are aware).
MLB This is a name ABOUT GOD; Isaiah 9 describes the child, who is also called “Prince of Peace.” Again, with each post, you prove my point!
REC I do believe I have made my point in the numerous posts above. I will remain steadfast in my witness to the G-d who created heaven and earth and everything in between. I will NOT direct the feelings reserved for my Creator to an inhabitant of His earth.
MLB As it is evidence to many who are reading this interaction, you have only helped the cause of the good news of the Messiah with your posts and increased our burden to pray for you and the rest of our people. Perhaps you were limited by some external factors or restricted by the use of a cell phone (?), but it really is clear that you did NOT respond to many scriptural points or even to citations within the rabbinic traditions. But thanks for your time, and you have encouraged us to pray.
REC I don’t see how any of your posts could take away from the truth in my last post.
MLB Again, what you’re saying to all of us is, “I’ll ignore the parts of the Scripture that contradict my understanding, and where I don’t understand, I’ll shout louder.”
REC No, what I’m saying is that I’ll ignore YOUR understanding/ interpretation of Scripture.
MLB I believe this would be a good place to close out our dialogue. You have made yourself far more clear than you could possibly realize and, quite unintentionally, done a real mitzvah in the cause of Messiah Yeshua. You have my love and prayers!
REC You too are in my prayers.
MLB Friends, let’s take this opportunity to redouble our efforts to pray for the salvation of the Jewish people, in particular traditional Jews like my friend Rabbi Eli Cohen. Our God will answer gloriously! Zechariah 12:10 will lead to Zechariah 13:1!