Monday, June 1, 2009

Why the Jews survived as a people when no one else did

Further to the last post, I was watching a lecture by Yale Professor Christine Hayes, and she makes the point that the reason the Jews have such an extraordinary long history when so many larger and more advanced civilisations dissapeared off the map, is their robust monotheism. Which meant that when the ultimate national disaster happened (being wholesale exile and enslavement) rather than accepting that their god had been defeated by the enemy's god they interpreted the event as an act of their soveriegn God. This interpretive act effectively stopped them from being assimilated by the conquering culture and allowed them to maintain a unique identity. Now this is an entirely secular argument, not one that needs God to be real for it to work. (Although if God is real then obviously God might have a hand in the survival of God's chosen people as well.) But I think this same point applies to the contemporary Christian's ability to maintain a Christian identity even through the most traumatic and harrowing circumstances. If you are able to interpret the event as being within the will of a soveriegn God then you will be able to survive it with your commitment to God intact. But if the event is interpreted as having happened in spite of the best efforts of a limited god your willingness to identify with that god will be compromised. After all, it makes no sense to give all your loyalty to a deity than isn't always in control.


  1. Good post, sir.
    Indeed, I think what is needed is for us to be able to express our conviction concerning God's providential sovereignty over all events. I think "God is always in control" is perfectly fine, but I think we can do better. And I also think we should do better, because the word 'control' conjures up imagery of a 'control desk' with a sea of buttons and switches, suggesting God has a myriad of options of which events will happen, some buttons labeled 'baby successfully born', others labeled 'woman mercilessly raped and abused', etc.

    The sustaining relationship of Creator to creation is far more... well... relational, methinks, yet I don't know the best way to describe it. Perhaps it's hard to improve on the metaphors used in Scripture? (King, Lord, Child-birthing mother, Mother Hen, Father, Saviour, etc.?)

  2. Robert Winston in "The Story of God" quotes Karen Armstrong's "The History of God" when saying that the strength of the Israelites - even during time of exile - was due to their faith in an absolutely sovereign monotheistic God. On the flip side, they argue that the Jewish belief in this absolute sovereignty first appeared during the time of the Babylonian exile.

    I think that the early Christians also had this same sovereignty world view, enabling them to endure much persecution.