Jewish doctor, Dr. Sternberg, is a diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine and is board certified in Medical Oncology. He practices in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Just because we were Jewish
My parents were not ‘religious’. My father did not appear to believe in God and had little patience for religious institutions. Nevertheless, when the High Holy Days came around, we donned new suits and ties, put on new shoes and walked the mile or so to the local Conservative synagogue.
Struggle with suffering
As a teen, I began to question the existence of God. I decided what I really wanted was to save lives. To me, that meant being a doctor. The more I saw, the less I believed in God. The question of suffering – specifically, why bad things happen to good people – distressed me.
The feeling of missing something as a Jewish doctor
After graduating from medical school, I completed my internship, residency and chief residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital. I also met and married Marilyn Meckler. Marilyn, also Jewish, was like me – we had similar values but were not religious. We moved to Houston, Texas, where I did my medical oncology fellowship at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. I had seen enough suffering, but specialising in cancer was even more intense.
I saw an opportunity to go into private practice and I seized it. We found our dream home with a swimming pool in the backyard and two new cars in the garage. Our marriage was good and we had two beautiful children, our ‘success story’ seemed complete. Still we experienced something was missing, not knowing what that might be.
Who are You?
After trying to pursue ‘kicks’ in nightlife we felt emptier than ever and decided to try something spiritual. We decided to get back to our Jewish roots, but we did not find ‘it’ there either. I was about to take my subspecialty boards in medical oncology when I suffered from optic neuritis. I lost most of the vision in my right eye overnight. If the condition spread to my left eye, I would be blind and my medical career would be over. Afraid and angry as I was, I cried it out to God (or was it the air?). I never imagined that God would answer my angry questions. I didn’t realise that in my anger I had actually uttered a prayer, “Who are you?”
Life and health stabilised. I did not regain the vision in my right eye, but my left eye remained sound. As I continued my practice, several patients tried to tell me about Jesus Christ. I simply explained that I was Jewish and that Jews do not believe in Jesus.
Love for Jesus
I knew how to stop a conversation, but I could not stop the love others had for Jesus. One woman with terminal breast cancer was in her early thirties – with a husband and a young child whom she would soon leave widowed and motherless. Yet she seemed more concerned about my spiritual welfare, in my knowing Jesus Christ than the fact that she was dying. She trusted this Jesus. God had allowed illnesses to ravage her, yet she still loved, worshipped and followed Him. It made me jealous.
One Saturday evening, our eleven-year-old, Jennifer, mentioned that her Jewish friend Allison had begun attending church with her family. I knew Allison’s father, Dr. Barg and I was outraged. I immediately called to confront him. Didn’t he understand that as a Jew he was obligated to resist the Christians? Didn’t he see that we Jews had no business going to churches where we would be swallowed up and assimilated? Dr. Barg kindly told me that he had found his Jewish identity and the God of Israel at this church. He said that for the first time, he was truly proud and excited to be Jewish. I was shocked but intrigued so I decided to attend church with him the following day.
My heart was touched
The sermon was about Psalm 73, where Asaph was asking God why righteous people suffer while the wicked prosper. My heart was pounding. How did he know that I wrestled with those very questions? He said that God sees everything from an eternal perspective while we see everything from an immediate, finite viewpoint. He said that those who believe God and put their faith in him would enjoy him for eternity. I walked into that church an agnostic/atheist/skeptic and left knowing that God is real, good and worthy to be loved and worshipped.
It was as though a light had been switched on. I knew that God was exactly what Marilyn and I had been missing. I finally knew the right questions and could only hope that the answers would not lead to Jesus. I wanted to know God and was determined to follow Him no matter where He took me. I wanted desperately to discover that the God I now sought could somehow be found in mainstream Judaism.
Conversations about Jesus
Afterwards, we had several conversations with the Bargs. The logic and scriptural basis of Dr. Barg’s presentation astounded us. We took an introductory course so that we could understand what Christianity was about. It all seemed to make sense, so much sense that I visited with rabbis, hoping that they could show me the fallacies of the case for Jesus. Each effort we made to hear something to dissuade us seemed to strengthen the growing belief that Jesus truly was the answer.
My Jewish Messiah
After much reading, prayer and internal turmoil, I finally came to believe in Jesus as my Jewish Messiah. I was unable to actually articulate my decision until a visit with a very sweet patient by the name of Mildred. Mildred was dying. As I was talking to her during her examination, she suddenly looked up at me and said, “Dr. Sternberg, there is something different about you over the last month. What is it?” Her simple observation brought me face to face with the fact that God had already begun to change me and I found myself explaining to Mildred that I had become a believer in Jesus Christ as my Jewish Messiah, Lord and Saviour. She simply nodded and said, “I thought so.”
My life was changed
My relationship with the living God has changed my life. It brings contentment, despite the painful realities of life and death. Faith does not anaesthetize me to the pain and suffering I encounter in my practice, but now I can pray for my patients that they will find peace and rest in Jesus. Even my Christian patients have benefited, knowing that their physician believes as they do and can pray with them and for them. Jesus filled the void that possessions, position and power never could and never would fill. Jesus was the answer, is the answer and always will be the answer to our deepest needs and desires. He is your answer, too. Please don’t reject the answer before you ask God the question that He is waiting to hear.