God, Israel, and Human Destiny
Reflection on dCEC spring break trip to Israel
“When you return home, now everyone will be asking you about Israel as though you are some kind of professor of Israeli studies: religion, geopolitics, history… everyone will want to know what you did and what you learned.”
So stated Efrat, our extraordinarily energetic Israeli tour guide who accompanied dozens of Sorin Fellows and dCEC staff up and down the most important strip of land in salvation history. In reality, journeying for only nine days on a bus in a far-away country is probably not enough to qualify me for a tenure-track professorship. In fact, I was humbled by the entire experience more than anything. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to share my pilgrimage story, which is not a tale about Israel per se but a reflection upon God’s work in the world more generally, how the universal God not only revealed himself in the flesh in a particular time and place and but also continues to guide us on this earth along our journeys toward heaven.
Yes, we Notre Dame students tend to ask big questions about the world, possess a remarkable curiosity for academic knowledge, and yearn to see the face of God after we depart from this earth. Though the Catholic intellectual tradition surely places a strong emphasis upon man’s ability to answer these kinds of questions through reason alone, we Catholics also recognize that certain essential truths are only knowable through revelation. In other words, God must surprise us!
A few weeks ago, Professor Gary Anderson stated in his course on the Book of Genesis that the land which is now Israel was like “the North Dakota of the ancient Near East.” Nobody would have expected the story of human salvation to unfold as it did in this remote place which was little more than an afterthought to the great nations and empires of the world. The story of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is ultimately a story about how God reveals himself in the most unthinkable of particularities, how the savior of the world came into being in the unlikeliest of circumstances. “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit”; not in Babylon, not in Athens, not in Rome, but in Nazareth.
I do not mean to offend all the North Dakotans out there, but I honestly cannot think of any fictional superhero movie that is set in Bismarck, Fargo, or Grand Forks. Yet, contrary to human standards of fiction in which we tend to glorify our characters on the grandest stages imaginable, God became man and died on our behalf in the most inglorious of circumstances. The Word was conceived in Mary’s womb in the small village of Nazareth, was born in the flesh in the little town of Bethlehem, and ministered to people throughout the folksy countryside of Galilee, ultimately dying on a Cross outside the walls of the great city of Jerusalem after being rejected by his own people.
God’s ultimate surprise was the complete destruction of death which Christ’s death obtained for us, a cosmic, universal victory which was nonetheless manifested in a particular time and place: 1st century Israel. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54-55). That victory applies to all humanity today just as it did 2,000 years ago.
Israel is an ordinary, earthly place with cosmic significance. Visiting this land has fundamentally changed how I view the world. I have returned to Notre Dame with an overwhelming sense of hope that my everyday life here on earth, wherever I may be, participates in a reality which points toward an eternal destiny. Surely, this eternal Jerusalem escapes our temporal understanding. Nevertheless, my experiencing Israel and reflecting upon the universal God’s revealing himself in the particular has given me a foretaste of that real destiny which lies beyond this world.
Brennan Buhr is a junior from Albany, NY studying political science, theology, and history. Among a variety of activities, he enjoys singing the Canadian national anthem on random occasions because why not, praying the Our Father in Aramaic, and drinking cold glasses of skim milk. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.