My friends on the basketball team from Yokosuka Navy Base, who rode in the carryall with me to and from YoHi, noticed the change that had taken place in me from reading the Bible during the forty-five minute drive each day from practice. “Are you asking Jesus to help you? Has Jesus saved you because you read the Bible? Do you think you’ll play better in sports because you pray? Is the devil trying to tempt you?” Jerry Cohen, Jack Purdum and others peppered me with questions and tried to provoke me, but that only drove me further inside myself. Ignoring them, closing my eyes, I descended into the deadly serious medieval words from the Bible. My friends continued to try to keep me from changing into to a holier-than-thou-monk. Maybe they recognized my changed personality seemed delusional and wanted to awaken me to enjoy our friendship and the future.
“What have you learned from the Bible?”Jerry asked a month later appearing interested.
“The teachings of Jesus have changed my life. You’ll start to understand what I mean if you read the Book of St. John. Ask me anything and I’ll discuss it with you.”
“I’ll read some tonight. I’m sorry for making fun of you.”
“A religious sailor started a Bible Study group to help people understand the Book of Revelation. Come with me at our next meeting,” I said. Jerry joined us for one session, started reading the Bible, and shared his thoughts with his father.
“Why don’t you discuss the Book of Revelation with my Dad and me tomorrow after school?” he said a few days later.
“Ok, but I’m no Biblical scholar.”
“That doesn’t matter. You might find my Dad has some insight on the Bible.”
“Alright, see you then.”
Entering their home with trepidation because I had never thought of discussing my new Christian beliefs with a Jewish Doctor who was far more knowledgeable, I wanted to cooperate in the pursuit of Bible study, whether it came from his father, or anyone else. Doctor Cohen sat on a leather chair in his library surrounded by hundreds of books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with the Book of Revelations on his lap. A little over-weight, balding with dark hair on the side, his large head exuded a facial expression of reflection, intelligence, and kindness. Fortunate to have a man of his caliber at our discussion, upon viewing him, I became almost instantly frozen in humility as a teenager before a pinnacle of wisdom.
“You’ve been studying the Bible with a group led by a sailor?” he asked.
“When Jerry showed an interest in what inspired me, I asked him to join me.”
“Dad and I noticed from the book of Revelation,” Jerry began, “that St. John’s dream described a vision of Jesus returning to Earth in the future in the clouds to save the believers. But, only twelve thousand Jews were included. Do you believe that?
“The Bible is the Word of God and the truth I’ve been taught.”
“Dad and I agreed that no loving God would ever allow millions of practicing Jews remaining on earth to die in the lake of fire.”
“I’ll ask John for his input, or maybe my minister,” was what came out of my mouth having no answer for their dissent, recognizing I knew too little to convince Jerry about such a discrepancy, much less his father.
At our next meeting I asked John about their protest. “The Book of Revelation is the Holy Word of God all Christians believe,” he began confidently. “The Holy Spirit inspired every word in the Bible. Jerry and his father are Jewish. They reject Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. Don’t waste your time with non-believers.”
This conflict and his answer baffled me. The Cohens had a strong argument and John seemed prejudiced against Jews but, I was too uncertain to criticize him. The next Sunday at church I asked the Navy Chaplain, a graduate of Princeton's Theological Seminary, about this dilemma because of his knowledge, intelligence, kindness, and easy accessibility.
“Many things aren’t fully explained in the Bible,” Chaplain Chambers said. “We often don’t understand their meaning without careful research into the language of the original texts, especially the Book of Revelation. Terms like twelve thousand can mean a much larger number today, since that number would have been significant then. Millions of Jews follow the Ten Commandments and live virtuous lives. We can’t always take the Bible’s language literally. Many passages from the Bible say if a person loves his neighbors, treats all life with compassion, and cares for his family, even if he never heard of Jesus or the Bible, God would welcome him into Heaven.”
He used an analogy: “A native on an island with no Bible to read, who lived a virtuous life harming no one, as God would have us live, would not suffer in Hell. Just because he lacked that knowledge, our loving and all-knowing God would never reject such a person from the gates of Heaven.”
My pursuit of truth made me aware that many sincere and good people see religion differently. Afterwards I shared this understanding with Jerry in a philosophical discussion.
“Reading distinguished authors to gain wisdom on how to live an ethical life is preferable to memorizing the Bible,” he said. Intrusive “born-again” indoctrination required me to consider my past as depraved. Self-loathing and repetitive Bible verse memorization, athletics, and studies left little time for open-minded thought that might have allowed me to challenge some religious concepts I accepted without questioning. Nevertheless, someone wiser than I, had planted seeds of a broader understanding that would bear fruit in the future.
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