ONCE HAVING DECIDED to take a hand in history, God had to start somewhere. What God elected to start with was Israel. This election has been a constant source of dismay, delight, and embarrassment to them both ever since. The account of the first few millennia of their stormy affair is contained in the Old Testament.
When the Israelites asked the question why God elected them, of all people, they arrived at two main answers. One answer was that God elected them for special privilege, but the tragic course of their own history soon disabused them of that. The other answer was that God elected them for terrible responsibility.
When they asked the question what the responsibility was that God had saddled them with, they arrived at two main answers. One answer was that their responsibility was to impose upon the world the knowledge of the One True God—but they were never very successful in doing that. The other answer was that their responsibility was to suffer and die for the world.
None of them wanted to suffer and die very much, including Jesus, but Jesus did it anyway. It was only afterward that people began to understand why this was necessary, although nobody has ever explained it very well and Jesus himself never seems to have tried. When Jesus died, something happened in the lives of certain people that made explanations as unnecessary as they were inevitable, and it has gone on happening ever since.