Tree of Life on Squirrel Hill: A Lament for America

Like all tragedies these days (so it seems), the slaughter of eleven worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh last Sabbath is already dimming in the national consciousness—drowned out by the cacophony of political rhetoric in advance of next week’s midterm elections.

And that is sad. Sad, because the virulent anti-Semitism that condemned these worshiping Jews to execution by firing squad is a tragic morality tale of what is yet ahead for America. For as fellow Sabbatarians, we Seventh-day Adventists with our Jewish neighbors know very well the countercultural contradistinction our choice to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) creates with the rest of America. While the public bows at the shrine of national sports on Saturdays or the temple of mega-mall shopping, Sabbatarians quietly attend their places of worship to bow before the Creator God of the universe. It was at that moment these eleven Jews were murdered in the refuge of their Tree of Life temple—what a heart-breaking irony!

Will it happen again? If you read the apocalyptic warning embedded in Revelation 13 as my faith community does, the calculus is certain—it will happen again. To Sabbatarians. Not only on a national scale, but globally as well. Is that somber recognition fearmongering? Hardly. It is rather the facing of truth even members of my own faith community have attempted to mitigate or at least minimize by forgetting.

Wake up! What was once unthinkable in this “land of the free and the home of the brave” has become the daily fare of this nation’s moral and ethical retrograding. And it doesn’t take high-powered optics to decide it really can happen here.

How then shall we respond? (1) Let us be proactive in seeking to build bridges to our fellow Sabbatarian Jews. We are the closest spiritual cousins they have within Christianity. It is more than an aside to observe that we Adventists are Jews with the Messiah. And the Messiah notwithstanding, we share a kindred spirit with Jews who revere the Torah of the Old Testament and the ethics of Christ in the New Testament. Be a friend to these who daily live with the anti-Semitism of other neighbors.

And (2) let us pray for God in mercy to hold back the apocalyptic winds that threaten the United States. The American writer, Ellen White, noted: “The Lord has done more for the United States than for any other country upon which the sun shines” (Maranatha 193). It is time for this faith community to seriously engage/reengage the people of this land in acts of compassion, deeds of unselfish service, bold advocacy for the marginalized and disenfranchised—in short, to live out the life of Jesus. Only when they see His love will they hear His truth. But we have become distracted by our own debates, we are complacent because our own wealth, we are disengaged from the very neighborhoods in which we dwell—all to our own loss and the loss of the apocalyptic mission we once embraced.

“We seem to sit as though we were paralyzed. God of heaven, wake us up!” (2SM 52)

The great Jewish lament of Psalm 137 must become our lament, too: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). Lament and pray, weep and work for America—before Babylon rises once more . . . before the deliverance of Zion shall come.