Hermann Cohen, a nineteenth-century Jewish philosopher, believed that despite persecution, the Jews should forget about establishing a homeland in the Middle East. Instead, he argued, they should take the great legacy bequeathed to them from the Hebrew Scriptures, ethical monotheism, and better their communities, wherever they were. For Cohen (who died in 1918), one country in the heart of Europe offered the perfect environment for his utopian vision—a country where the Jews, having already had a long history there, would not only be fully accepted but could play a pivotal role in creating a just and prosperous society, one that could stand as a model for all the world.
“These are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem. Today, as never before, man has in his possession the capacities to end war and preserve peace, to eradicate poverty and share abundance, to overcome the diseases that have afflicted the human race, and permit all mankind to enjoy their promise of life on this earth.”1
Thus spake President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in 1964, as he was about to escalate the Vietnam War.
No matter how deep the problem, the solution was deep enough to solve it.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington, D.C., is the Tidal Basin, especially the cherry trees that annually flower during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. These were gifts from Japan in 1912, a symbol of the “eternal friendship” between the two nations. In 2004 a new memorial went up, only 200 yards away—to (among other things) the horrors of Pearl Harbor.
In his Vietnam memoir Philip Caputo wrote about the idealism of his youth, Responding to President Kennedy’s call to “Ask not what your country and can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” Caputo believed that he could do something for his country by fighting against Communism in Vietnam. Before long, Army officers were offering beers to every “grunt” for each Viet Cong soldier they killed. “That is the level to which we had sunk from the lofty idealism of a year before,” he wrote. “We were going to kill people for a few cans of beer and the time to drink them.”2
We are all fallen creatures. “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Nothing we touch, no matter how innocently we touch it, is not corrupted by our sin. We have ruined almost everything earthly.
And yet Christ died for us anyway. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). The Hebrew phrase for “all we” (culanu) at the start of the verse is repeated at the end, “us all” (culanu). That is, no matter how deep the problem, the solution was deep enough to solve it.
History may be beyond redemption, yes; but none of us as individuals, are.
1 Kevin M. Schultz, Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the Sixties, Kindle Locations 2192-2196 (W. W. Norton & Company, Kindle Edition).
2 Philip Caputo, A Rumor of War: The Classic Vietnam Memoir, fortieth anniversary edition (Henry Holt and Co., Kindle Edition), p. 311.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. His latest book is Risen: Finding Hope in the Empty Tomb.