One of the most profound seasons of growth I have experienced as a Christian was when I was being taught by a Rabbi.
I was a couple years into undergrad when I found myself with a few gaps in my schedule and extra time to add some electives. I was indecisive and classes were filling up fast so I kind of chose one at random. The first day of the semester, I sat down at my seat and watched as a middle-aged Cuban man wearing a yamaka walked into the classroom and wrote “Rabbi Viñas” on the chalkboard. I had no idea what I was in for.
Thus started one of the most interesting semesters I’ve ever had. The sheer irony of it, you know? A devoted Christian taking notes on the spiritual teachings of an equally devoted Jew. And it only took Rabbi Viñas about three minutes to figure out I was Christian because I pulled out my Bible to follow along when he started lecturing from Genesis.
To his credit, Rabbi Viñas had no complaints about my Bible.
He also had no complaints about my faith. Or my questions about his.
You see, friends, there is a strange phenomenon that happens in the early days of undergrad. You go in feeling pretty cocky, having freshly conquered high school and sometimes having graduated among the top of your class. And then you have your first university lecture by a professor who is the leading expert in his field and you start to wonder whether you’re as smart as you think you are. You have your first university exam and your fears are confirmed.
So somewhere along that first semester of college, you swallow down some pride and start wearing some humility. But I got lost in the process, you guys, and instead of humility, I got acquainted with passivity. And complacency. And a not-so-healthy dose of self-doubt. I stopped thinking for myself and began to blindly accept whatever my professors taught.
But put a Jesus-lover in a class about Judaism and rusted wheels start turning again. She starts to wonder if the words she hears really agree with the words written on her heart. The Sunday School lessons of her childhood return to her memory. New Testament covenants spill from her tongue.
She starts to question.
It’s been a few years since I graduated with a minor in Jewish Studies. I have a Torah with English translation running alongside the original Hebrew. Unfortunately, I can’t read any Hebrew. Or write it or speak it. Still, I have a deep appreciation for the history of the Jewish people. I embrace it as part of my own heritage because I am an adopted daughter of the King and a co-heir with Christ.
And in the most unexpected turn of events, I learned more than just Torah as a Jewish Studies student. I learned the Gospel.
You see, Christians sometimes get a bad rap for being less intellectual than non-Christians. And you guys, part of me believes there is truth to that. Perhaps we’ve put on this cloak of spiritual complacency and become content with letting the apologetics and the great theologians and the world-famous speakers study the Bible while we just sit back and listen.
I know I’m guilty of it. I spent a long time reading books and listening to sermons as I tried to figure out what I personally believed about Christianity. There’s nothing inherently wrong in doing so.
The problem arises when we start relying on everyone and everything else to tell us what our faith should be and start neglecting the Word of God. We’ve been given this invaluable resource that reveals to us the nature of God and what He desires for us. When we’re presented with different theologies and conflicting ideas, it is only this Bible that harbors the irrefutable truths of God. And the best way for me to know them is to read them for myself.
Let’s be honest, though. Studying the Bible is hard, y’all. It can come off as repetitive on one page and contradictory on another. Some of those Old Testament laws seem outdated and I wonder if they really describe the God I know today, the God who is supposed to be unchanging. Then there are times when I read a portion and know there’s something I need to learn here, something that is relevant to my circumstance, but the essence of it evades me. There are parts of the Bible that have surprised me. And there are parts of the Bible that have broken my heart.
Yet of this I am sure: The truths I proclaim having wrestled with God are so much sweeter than the ones I have been spoon fed.
So maybe we need to start examining the words we hear. Maybe we need to stop accepting them as truth just because they come from someone with a fancier title than us. Maybe we need to stop believing people just because they’re New York Times best sellers. Maybe we need to stop trusting speakers just because they lead super trendy, super hipster mega-churches.
I know, I know. Shots fired. But you know what? The Jesus I read of in the Bible called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and warned against wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.
Maybe part of being sure of what you believe is having the courage to call people out on their crap.
Jesus, the one they called Rabbi, used Judaism to teach me that.
Rabbi Viñas once gave us a reading on the Jewish traditions of sacrifice and told us to write a response paper for him. I was having a hard time with it so I sat with him after class and tried to talk it out. He listened to me for a few minutes and then asked, “What do you think of when you hear ‘sacrifice’?”
I paused for a moment and remembered a Gospel truth. “I think of a Lamb who was sacrificed for me. But more than that, I think of a veil torn in two. Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing separates me from God.”
Rabbi Viñas smiled and said, “Go. Write about this Jesus you know.”