It was in the summer of 1964, at the height of the Vietnam War, when the harsh reality of human existence pressed in upon me with special significance.
Born shortly after the Holocaust, I had just finished 11th grade in high school. Unsure if I had sufficient marks to enter university and pursue my dreams, I needed to get serious about my direction in life. Yet, what kind of world was I entering? What could the future hold if the past had been so horrendous and the present looked so similar?
Thus, while anxiously awaiting to hear if I was accepted to the university, I began to ponder some momentous questions for the first time. For me, it was both a time of reflection and projection into the future. Absorbed in my idealist and utopian imaginings, I thought of how the world ought to be and might well unfold in the rapidly advancing, technological age.
Escaping the flames of antisemitism for a safe haven in Canada
I was born in 1947, in the Montreal Jewish General Hospital and grew up in a conservative Jewish home. My father, Solomon, was born in Canada, in 1914, after his family had emigrated from an antisemitic Russia some years earlier, for a better life. Montreal, however, had its own challenges, not the least being the antisemitic, French Roman Catholic majority; along with a largely unsympathetic English minority, within which the Jewish populace made a place for themselves, as best they could.
My mother, Molly, was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1923. While she was still a young girl, she departed Poland and came to Montreal in the early 1930s with her parents and older brother – just in time, before Hitler took Poland in 1939. Their city Lodz had been the center of the “schmata” (clothing) business, where her father, Joseph, had worked. So, he continued that trade in Canada.
Canadian university quotas had formerly screened out all but the most brilliant few Jews. In the early 1950s, the quotas finally expanded. Second and third generation Canadian-ized Jews flooded in for every available seat, where they competed, often with honors.
Although still proud to be a Jew and not one of “them” (the “goyim” Gentiles), after my Bar-Mitzvah at age 13, I soon stopped going to synagogue. Despite the years of Jewish studies after regular public school and the ongoing camaraderie of Jewish friends of similar age, for me the old traditional practices faded with neglect. Fascination with science replaced what I now considered to be superstitious beliefs, unfit for inclusion in what I hoped would be a bright, dawning future.
So there I was in June 1964, a still childish 17-year-old, uncertain of life’s meaning and purpose, questioning why it was so full of trouble. Why couldn’t people just live in peace together? Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? How could violence and war solve anything? And yet, that was what individuals and peoples had suffered repeatedly. It just seemed senseless.
My mental reverie: sci-fi utopia
As I teetered between disillusionment and technological-optimism, I allowed myself to embark on a mental flight of fancy, imagining what the future might be like. My science-fiction-fed fantasies went airborne…
“Hmm, if we did not kill each other off (which always was a threat, but I hoped could be kept remote) then perhaps, by implanting computers in our brains, we would be able to deal with the physical world in a better, more informed way than in the past. But then again, as we became more technologically adept and able to produce ever more destructive weapons, would our conflicts be resolved any differently than before? Maybe, just maybe, we would survive. Then what?”
“The combination of cooperation, creativity, easy calculation, and a growing body of ready information could lead to rapid solutions for an ever-better world. We could learn to produce enough food to end famines and poverty. We would surely be able to eradicate disease. Growing new organs to replace those that wore out would push death away, perhaps forever. At some point, we would control the weather and harness sufficient energy for every need. Automation and robots would free people from all sorts of mundane tasks.”
“What next? At some point, we would gain control of the Solar System…and then in the distant future, our galaxy. Why stop there? We would move beyond the Milky Way to control ever further galaxies…and eventually, the entire universe, however remote that would be. That is, if we did not kill ourselves off! If we could control it all… then we would be like God! Amazing!”
Caught totally off guard
Once I considered that in the very distant future humans might well so advance as to gain control of the whole universe, then the notion of attaining god-like status seemed almost reasonable. But what if some other alien civilization already had got there first!? Oh no!
Immediately, another thought struck me: what if neither case might be true?
What if, instead, God had created the world and obviously, would still be in control? The idea caught me totally off guard, upending my far-fetched speculations!
Only semi-realized at that juncture, the unarticulated argument was this: “If it was remotely possible for humans to become god, then a pre-existent God certainly was conceivable.”
The train of thought made sense. Such a God might actually exist. With that, I became awkwardly aware of Someone right there watching me! A-a-ah! I felt exposed, naked, under the piercing scrutiny of a very present, all-powerful, Supreme Being. “God! You!,” I addressed Him in thought, as I kind of waved, a frightened, yet surprised, “hello.”
All this occurred within a few minutes of my “sci-fi reverie” of an optimistic future. To have arrived at the existence of God was an utter shock. I neither expected nor considered God as a real option before, having abandoned the very notion for the potential developments of science with its great prospects. My perplexity at this radical turning of the tables was disturbing but almost inescapable. There was this brooding Presence. A feeling of woeful ignorance coupled itself with a deep desire to know more: “How can I know You?” “Where can I find out who You are?”
Astounding explanation – “The Beginning”
The Bible, of course! But my Hebrew was not good enough at that time to understand the Hebrew text that we had. Ah-ha. I suddenly recalled that I had purchased an English Bible at my favorite little corner store, a year and a half earlier, for a 10th grade study of the Book of Job. So I turned to search for it in our little, stuffed bookcase. It was missing! So I scrounged around. There, behind all the Hebrew Bibles and Yiddish prayer books, on the bottom shelf, I found it – that small, blue, thick book with red-edged pages. Dusting it off, I figured that it would be most appropriate to start at the first book of the Jewish Bible, Genesis. Quickly turning the untouched pages, I opened to read:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
So soon after I had perceived that God might have begun everything, now I had this clear, direct answer, on the page in front of me! No longer was it a mere hypothetical possibility in the mind of a young science fiction buff. I recognized it as God’s declaration to humanity thousands of years ago. Delighted and in awe, if I had any doubt about my thinking process, it was allayed, strikingly, by this written claim. I simply took it as the truth. God was the true cause of the universe and humanity. What else did God have to say?
I had to read more.
New morality and old tricks
By this point I had been accepted into university. As I walked onto campus in September of 1964, the issues of human behavior, of freedom, right and wrong filled the air, out in the open. The sexual revolution of the early 60’s was already in full swing, even blatantly displayed on campus. Exploration of life was not merely an intellectual or educational exercise. It was prancing off in every conceivable direction of experience, generously intoxicated with alcohol and drugs.
Strangely, as I read further in the Hebrew scriptures, within a few verses of the creation account, a sly, serpentine figure spoke. It raised a challenge against the most dire warning of God. Were Adam and Eve going to rebuff the challenge or not? The cunning maneuvers in Genesis 3 against moral absolutes, suddenly sounded strikingly familiar.
It was an old trick:
“Oh come on! It’s natural and good. God made it and put it there for you to enjoy. Actually, if you must know the truth, God is holding out on you, …eh, rather selfishly, to keep you under his control. Unfair, I say, lest you challenge his extreme hegemony over you. Silly little dummy! So grow up! Make your own decisions about life. It’s yours after all. Anyway, you surely won’t die. Believe me, I know. Go ahead… you can be like God, knowing what is good and evil. Take a bite and see for yourself. You have nothing to lose but your foolish, naive ignorance!” (paraphrased)
A tragedy of cosmic proportions
Wow! I was stunned; shocked! Someone had revealed what was almost a universal phenomenon. Here was history summed up in a few lines of unembellished conversation. Yet it carried such huge import for human affairs. With uncanny insight into the human condition, this portrayal looked too perceptive for simple childlike minds to even begin to grasp, let alone invent or express so long ago.
It suddenly seemed believable that a diabolical invader or crooked mind had fouled the weakest person’s innocence, to deceptively convince her to change the very order of things, and then implicate her dearest love, to collectively betray their Creator. A tragedy of cosmic proportions was unfolding. All parties bore their guilt, as they and Nature came under Divine judgement. How sad! This account made sense to me, for it fit in with the nasty past and the present unraveling of basic moral behavior that I observed all around me.
I was amazed. Not only had God communicated the truth of nature’s dependent origin, He also had explained the origin of the polluting moral chaos and its ensuing conflicts that were far too real, past, present, and, doubtless, future.
Conveyed so compellingly in this graphic and pregnant text, the enormous consequences, both human and natural, which followed upon the abandonment of God and His prudential ways, seemed eminently convincing to me. It was as if I was watching a film of the momentous events transpire before me. This portrayal, so succinctly stating the essential, cardinal truths of nature’s origin and the problem of evil, was impressed upon my consciousness. Even though I could barely grasp the extent and depth of the ramifications, they etched themselves deeply within, as their echoes expanded in ever widening ripples throughout my life.
Although I was unaware of it at the time, God began to educate me in the things of the spirit, towards full faith in Messiah. This paralleled what I was learning about science/nature, and how to operate within it, through a proper understanding and application of its laws. During the day I studied at university, then finished my homework assignments in the evening, before devouring God’s Word usually for more than an hour before bed. This pattern formed my dual course of study over the next year and a half.
Jewish callers on Christian radio show
Halfway through high school, I had somehow turned the radio dial one day and heard a Christian pastor. His program became a welcome distraction on Sunday nights before bed, especially over the summer when I stayed up late. So, I had listened out of curiosity and amusement at the “silly things that people still believed.” But now, after this “revelation” from God, the program became particularly intriguing.
Interestingly, Jewish callers formed the largest percentage of questioners by people group, bringing up all the typical Jewish issues to this friendly and reasonable man, who did not fit my stereotypes of a Christian. His answers were both disarming and informed with Biblical quotes, ideas, and an unusual appreciation of Jewish views. He recognized the wrongness of antisemitism, emphasizing the demands placed upon true Christians, that required love rather than hate. It was eye-opening and refreshing. It cleared up some of the Jewish objections to Jesus that lingered in my mind – but not all…
In the next installment, Dr. Wiseman will share how he concluded that the Messiah does not contradict the Torah injunction to have only ONE GOD. Plus moving to Israel. Stay tuned…
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