This morning a couple of songs from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ were in my head. I reflected on Twitter that I hadn’t watched the movie since my ‘I wanted to be Jewish’ kick about a decade ago.
One of the worst flaws of my personality is the tendency towards obsession. Through the years I’ve been, by the grace of God, able to tame that tendency somewhat. I’ll walk you through some of the faulty logic here, and perhaps this will help you if you recognize this tendency in yourself. Or perhaps you’re a Christian who is obsessed with ‘Jewish roots’ and need a kick in the pants.
More after the break.
How far did I go? All the way until I hit the Orthodox wall. Two rabbis of a local Orthodox Jewish synagogue politely yet firmly declined my request for conversion. One of them explained to me that a) becoming Jewish was a burden, not a joy, because you have to obey the Laws of Moses, and b) Jesus is not regarded as a good man in Judaism. Jesus is regarded as a heretic, a bad man, who led many Jews astray.
These were eye-openers to me. I thought I would try Reform Judaism and ‘work my way up’, but the Reform synagogue down the street ignored my emailed request for more information. This was providential, as it turned out, but eminently frustrating at the time.
How did I get to this ‘I want to be Jewish’ obsession? It started with a partial truth:
God works through your feelings sometimes, so pay attention to your strong feelings, because it might be God speaking.
As long as I’ve been saved–some 25 years ago–I’ve always wanted to hear the voice of God, to know how he speaks to me. Decades of trial and error will drive one to extremes at times.
I don’t remember exactly when I became obsessed with the ‘Jewish roots of Christianity’. (I put quotes around that phrase because I disagree with it–Jesus is the Root; we don’t need Judaism any more.) At some point I went ‘whole hog’, though. Visiting local ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregations, listening to ‘Messianic’ music almost exclusively, beginning to practice Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah–all of that, I was obsessed with it.
But this was the start: intense feelings and the desire to hear from God. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions–in a sense, my good intentions, my obsessions, were a component of my own personal hell, which eventually culminated in a complete nervous breakdown a few years back.
Note that I don’t blame anyone Jewish–Orthodox, Reform, ‘Messianic’, or any others. I haven’t joined the alt-right and started making evil jokes about gas chambers. The blame for my obsession rests solely on my shoulders, and I took full responsibility for anyone I hurt during that time (mostly my wife, who had to put up with this stupid nonsense for much longer than she deserved.
How did I get out of this trap? Slowly and painfully. I finally hit rock-bottom when a tormenting series of thoughts ran through my head: since millions of Jews died in the Holocaust, Jesus can’t be real, because God is love. I said the words, renouncing Christ, and heard only silence.
Then I turned back.
I was terrified of demons, terrified of hell, and terrified of what would happen if I was wrong. So I turned back.
That was when I made a new decision for Christ: I was going to follow him and not Judaism.
I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays any more. According to Paul, I don’t have to (Galatians 4:10). That simplifies things, and my desire for holidays has been more than satisfied by my confirmation into the Anglican church. I observe the Christian calendar now, which has enough rich tradition to meet my deepest longings in that area.
I’ve learned not to go ‘whole hog’ any more for anything. This has taken a long time too. I could tell you about my obsession with becoming a truck driver or a priest/minister, a race car driver, a guitar and piano player, my obsession with learning the Japanese language, my desire to form a ‘drunken glory’ community…there’s much to tell. I’ll save some of that for future posts.
But all of it comes back to that one partial truth: ‘God works through feelings.’
Practically, I have found this both true and untrue. Throughout the New Testament, we see the Holy Spirit speaking to individuals. At one point, something ‘seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 15:28–but it was always ‘by the Holy Spirit’, and that’s the sticking point: how to know when you’re hearing from the Holy Spirit.
That’s the hard part.
- One ‘trick’ I’ve learned is that if strong feelings are involved, if I’m worked up into a tizzy about something, then I’m not in a good place to hear from God. It’s said that he speaks in a ‘still small voice’, so in order to hear a quiet whisper, it makes sense that internal and external quiet is probably a good idea when one is learning to hear God’s voice. Learning to meditate is a good thing.
Getting help for mental health issues, if you have them, also helps. I was incapable of calming down for years because I was in a perpetual state of emotional pain due to anxiety and depression. One time a pastor told me to ‘crawl up into God’s lap and just let him love you’. I told him I had no idea how to do that, and that’s true: I didn’t. I never had peace. It’s said that there is no rest for the wicked, and that’s true, but there is no rest for the righteous at times, and if you can’t rest, either inside or out, you need to get help.
Another thing that helped me was having family who could tell me when I was being crazy. When I would listen to her, my wife was a good ‘sounding board’ for the strong emotions I was feeling. If I felt a strong leaning in a certain direction and she didn’t, I became divided, because half of me ‘knew’ that ‘God’ was ‘telling me’ to do this or that, and the other half, the more reasonable half, said, ‘you two are one flesh, and God is going to direct both of you if it’s a major decision that God wants you to make’. I’m sad to say that I listened to the former ‘voice’ much more than the latter, which caused much unnecessary strife in our marriage.
One time my mother told me that I had always had an obsessive personality, ever since I was young–and that stuck with me as well. That phrase shattered a lot of my plans and made me think twice: am I being obsessed with this? Does this really matter? Is this really what God wants? That introduced doubt was helpful when I was most worked up, most gung-ho, about something. I didn’t always listen to that advice, but it never left me. That bit of self-doubt was like an anchor to me.
(Edit: This post doesn’t practically delve into hearing God’s voice. I’ll explore that topic at a later date. Until then, I’m pleased to recommend Frank Viola’s book Jesus Speaks; while I haven’t read it yet, Frank is a solid source of Biblical teaching and has never steered me wrong.)
I won’t tell you that if you have an obsessive personality, that it’s going to be easy to overcome that. That would be a lie. It’s going to take effort on your part, through study of Scripture, prayer, and advice from wise counsel. Studying a bit of psychology can help here too, and making sure you are mentally healthy is essential. If you’re frequently anxious or depressed, that is not normal, and you need to get help immediately.
What does it look like when you get over an obsessive personality? You gain the ability to step back and look at the big picture, to put things in perspective. The ‘voices’ in your head (whether they are actual voices or just hearing your internal monologue–those are usually the same) become easy to quiet and you can get into a place of internal quiet. Then you can pray, ‘Lord, show me the way,’ and wait for an answer. And God will answer, one way or another.
(I apologize if I’ve stuck ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ in your head now. I believe I’ll go see that movie again–and this time, it won’t be because I’m obsessed with Judaism, it will just be an enjoyable musical.)