Monday, March 26, 2007

The Gamaliel Conundrum

Having presented the Torquemada Paradox just a few posts back, now it's time for another puzzler: The Gamaliel Conundrum.

We hear again and again from those of a more conservative persuasion that showing tolerance and acceptance to other faiths...or perhaps, horror of horrors, actually having the audacity to claim that God might somehow be at work in a terrible thing to do. If we don't bludgeon those poor deluded souls into joining us on the gracious path Christ walked, then we do them a horrific disservice. Without that altar call and that public profession, an eternity of torment awaits them, no matter how good they might appear to be. Tolerance of other faiths is viewed as little more than being Satan's enabler. That's what Jack Chick tells me, anyway.

The irony in that, of course, is that were it not for an *cough* unbeliever *cough* who was willing to make that leap of open-mindedness, Christianity as we know it might not exist at all. That someone is Gamaliel, one of the teachers of the apostle Paul. As it's written the book of Acts, this great Judean rabbi, grandson and successor to the legendarily open-minded Hillel, finds himself holding the lives of all of the apostles in his hands. The crowd calls for their deaths. What does he do? If he lets things go as they're going, and doesn't intervene, all of the leaders of the early Jesus movement will die. Instead, he takes a stand and counsels tolerance, making a vigorous and persuasive case that they should be spared. He suggests that if God was not at work in them, then they would fail anyway, but if God is in them, then opposing them would be pointless. He sways the Sanhedrin, and instead of being killed, Peter and the apostles are just given a whuppin' and set free. So here we have a thoughtful, gracious, and tolerant rabbi saving Christianity.

Such a pity he didn't come to Jesus, and will spend his eternity being forced by pop-tart succubi to listen to Hillary Duff's latest album over and over again. That is what we're supposed to believe, right?