Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Knowing, Nicolas Cage, & Passover

Have you seen the new Nicolas Cage movie Knowing? It’s actually pretty effective as science fiction entertainment, but what fascinates me about it is the weird way it raises questions about destiny or predestination that have been bugging me all week, and that are relevant to Passover. 

I put this to you as a question rather than as an answer.
You’ve probably had this experience: In your daily experience over the course of week or so, a certain topic just seems to keep coming up. That’s the way it’s been for me since I saw Knowing last Saturday night after the close of the Jewish Sabbath.
The plot in a nutshell is that 50 years ago, a little girl wrote down a bizarre series of numbers, seemingly random, that in the hands of Nick Cage as an MIT astronomer in the present day are revealed as a prophecy of all the great disasters that have happened across the world, including 9/11. Somehow, the girl foresaw all this, and the Cage character realizes that her prophecy points to imminent apocalypse. Roger Ebert has an entertaining review that spoils the surprise if that doesn’t bother you.


The movie asks if events that occur in our lives are somehow destined or whether stuff just happens. The angle that especially bothers me is whether people are somehow programmed or destined to have a particular kind of relationship to God.
On Thursday, this came up in a conversation with a Christian friend. Without giving away anyone’s identity, I’ll just say we were talking about another friend of ours, a secular Jew. We’ll call him Jeremy. It happens that still other friends of ours — a Catholic, a smattering of Evangelical Christians, an Orthodox Jew — have all been “working on” Jeremy. Basically, to put it crudely, trying to convert him.
My observation was that there’s something about Jeremy’s personality that makes me think it’s highly unlikely anyone will succeed. For all that Jeremy is interested in deep, ultimate, even spiritual questions, he doesn’t seem to have the “piety” gene. His raucous impiety is something that all his friends and admirers enjoy about him.
My Christian friend, with whom I was discussing this, is a bit of a Calvinist. Meaning, he believes in predestined salvation or damnation. As a Jew, I can’t accept such an idea. The Mishnah puts the matter this way: “Everything is foreseen [by God], yet freedom is granted; the world is judged with goodness, and everything is according to the preponderance of [good] deeds” (Pirke Avot 3:15).
What made me realize I had to blog about this was when I looked at my bookshelf tonight and “randomly” my eyes fell on a review copy of a forthcoming book I received in the mail from Oxford University Press this week. The title? Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine, by Peter J. Thuesen.
The connection to Passover is that over the Sabbath, I was reading commentaries on the Song of Songs, which is part of the liturgy of the intermediate Sabbath of Passover. This book of the Hebrew Bible is traditionally understood as a parable about the tempestuous love affair between God and Israel. Verse 1:4, in which Israel speaks to God, reads, “Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.”
An anomaly in the grammar caught the attention of one traditional commentator, who explained that “Draw me” is in the singular because God’s call to us emanates equally, but the next phrase is in the plural, “we will run after thee,” because the response of every individual will vary according to…what?
Free choice, right? I’ve written many times before about how central the idea of moral responsibility is to a Biblical worldview.
At the same time, we all know people like Jeremy. I’ll give you an analogy: professional sports. I have always found watching sports or following sports results in the news a supremely boring activity. I will never be interested in sports, no matter how much I might wish otherwise. I don’t wish it, but even if I did.
We all know people who seem to lack that spiritual gene. We also know people who seem absolutely called not simply to spirituality but to a particular religion or a particular variation on that religion.
Because I wrote a book called Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, I often get emails from adherents of Messianic Judaism or other Jewish Christians. A Jewish-born woman wrote to me recently and said she was dissatisfied by her life as Christian, that she didn’t care for liberal Jewish denominations, but at the same time, she wrote “I will NEVER be an Orthodox Jew.” She found the worship service too chilly and intellectual.
That’s a different blog post. Judaism is emphatically not merely about worship services. However, I had a very hard time knowing how to respond to her. It was not her intellect that was speaking to me in her email. It was her personality. Her personal response.
Is personal response subject to free choice? That’s my question for you. I have a theory about what in nature this may be comparable to.
One thing we can say for certain, on the basis of what we know from the Hebrew Bible, is that certain personal predispositions precede our emergence into the world. Jacob and Esau, in their mother’s womb, were already who they would become more fully as adults — Jacob moved by Godliness and Esau by idolatry.
The easy answer is that God gave Esau his temperament in order to provide him an opportunity to overcome it. So too with the rest of us who struggle with temptation. Fine. Yet this doesn’t explain why some folks really appear to be asleep spiritually, numb, insensible to spiritual stimulation. They may have been that way since childhood. They know no other orientation to the world.
To continue the sleep analogy: Can a sleeper awaken himself?
Your thoughts?
Comments read comments(5)
post a comment
Bill From Up On The HIll

posted April 5, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Hi David,
Your question, “Can a sleeper awaken himself?” makes it irresistable to draw a comparison to “Dune”, the quasi-religious science fiction series by Frank Herbert. “The sleeper must awaken”, was something that hero/messiah Paul Atreides told himself in his moments of doubt. Paul struggled with the issue of pre-destination. Was he the Qwisatz Hadderach or was he simply using the Fremen for his political goals? Paul (funny what a Biblical ring it has as I write this), decided that for the greater good, the sleeper must awaken and drank the poisonous Water of Life. He succeeded in becoming what he imagined he might be, though at great risk. So was it predestination or personal choice?

report abuse

David Klinghoffer

posted April 6, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Fascinating about “Dune,” Bill. Thanks. I want to go back and read that sometime.

report abuse

Your Name

posted April 8, 2009 at 9:51 am

can a sleeper awaken himself. most certainly, just like the sinner can see the light.although it will not be as easy. why? that is the true question and this wonderful question certainly gets you going.

report abuse

Steve Shay

posted April 8, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I put this to you as a question rather than as an answer.
In the context of the four children, Christopher Hitchens could be the “wicked,” or rebellious child.
A born-again Christian who knows nothing about Jesus, and an adult whose mother and father happen to be Jewish but himself doesn’t believe in anything, may each be the “simple child.”
In this context, isn’t it the Christian and the Jew who are asleep, while Hitchens, the atheist, is wide awake?At least he is asking the questions, right?

report abuse

Jemma Cowie

posted April 17, 2009 at 6:30 am

Is the whole of society save for a few sleeping in regard to one area of great import? Perhaps this is the question Knowing aims to ask, are we all ignoring discoveries in child development that if treated correctly create the future of our World?
Those who asked how and what does the beginning of humanity know, those whom considered the neuro development of a child’s forebrain were all equally astounded. Perhaps the Director/ scree writer is well read.
Jean Piaget believed, along with his friend Einstein, that children have an inherent capacity for development to extreme levels, destroyed possibly by the adults and their forefathers before them.Young scientists, drawing parallels within the Quantum Theory and Einstein loving the child’s approach as his approach to relativity was so far from common sense.
They even traced tantrums back to stone age and stated that these were obstacles to the child’s natural driven desire ( horme Sir Percy Nunn).
Yes there is the whole nature nurture debate; the forebrain of a newborn is using all the 27 senses to create a map of their new World. Embryo like it is so receptive.
Could it be knowing equates to knowledge aims to illustrate the Power of children’s uncontrolled views free of social expectation for a while at least?
Straight talking thinking Jem.
P.S Many texts throughout history of logic and moral code support we can change anything we wish about ourselves, people further use mind power to awake themselves from sleep at anytime.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Kingdom of Priests. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Kabballah Counseling Happy Reading! ...

posted 11:24:22am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Animal Wisdom: The Voice of the Serpent
Our family watched Jaws together the other evening -- which, in case you're wondering, I regard as responsible parenting since our kids are basically too young to be genuinely scared by the film. The whole rest of the next day, two-year-old Saul ...

posted 3:56:33pm Mar. 16, 2010 | read full post »

Reading Wesley Smith: Why the Darwin Debate Matters
If the intelligent-design side in the evolution debate doesn't receive the support you might expect from people who should be allies, that may be because they haven't grasped why the whole thing matters so urgently. I got an email recently from ...

posted 5:07:12pm Mar. 15, 2010 | read full post »

The Mission of the Jews
Don't miss my essay over at First Things on the mission of the Jews to the world. This, I think, the key idea that the Jewish community needs to absorb at this very unusual cultural moment, for the time is so, so right. Non-Jews are waiting for ...

posted 6:14:16pm Mar. 05, 2010 | read full post »

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult
Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the ...

posted 2:04:11pm Mar. 04, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.