Shibboleth

by Chris Rousell

I really like The West Wing. Now I’m not entirely sure on the ethics of plugging a TV show on the Internlog, but given it ceased airing 12 years ago and I’m not on Warner Brothers’ payroll, I hope we can let this slide. After the getting the entire series boxset for my birthday last year, I’ve been ever so slowly making my way through them all. Series 2 Episode 8 was a particular doozy I must say. It’s called ‘Shibboleth’. The title comes from this little section of the book of Judges:

And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over”, the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No”, they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth”, and he said, “Sibboleth”, for he could not pronounce it right.” Judges 12.5-6a

The word ‘Shibboleth’ was a password of determining friend from foe. Determining the sincere and the insincere. Only the Gileadites could pronounce it.

In the episode, President Bartlett attempts to ascertain the sincerity of a group of refugees from China claiming to be Christians fleeing persecution by interviewing one of the refugees, named Jhin Wei. After being asked a series of fact-based questions such as ‘How did you become a Christian?’, ‘How do you practice?’ and ‘Can you name any of Jesus’ apostles?’ Jhin Wei interrupts the president and says this:

“Mr. President, Christianity is not demonstrated through a recitation of facts. You’re seeking of evidence of faith, a wholehearted acceptance of God’s promise of a better world. ‘For we hold that man is justified by faith alone’ is what Saint Paul said. Justified by faith alone. Faith is the true shibboleth.”

Oftentimes I find myself reducing my faith to a set of facts- that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification. And whilst this is true, it misses the point a little bit (rogue, but go with me). My faith, our faith, is not intellectual assent to a set of facts- it’s faith in a God of whom those facts are true. Jesus didn’t die so that we would believe in a set of facts, but so we’d believe in Him. And I won’t lie to you, knowing Jesus is far better than knowing things about Him.