Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: General

On Israel and Hamas, partisan Christianity and the misrepresentation of God

This will be my final post for a week or two. I’ll be away on holiday and will have more important things to think about — things like sunbathing, reading, relaxing and having fun with my family.

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As no reader can fail to be aware, military violence between Israel and Palestine (specifically Hamas) has escalated in recent days. Hamas has been tossing rockets into Israel, while Israel has been sending guided missiles into Gaza.

As soon as these kinds of events begin to unfold, it’s generally only a matter of a few hours at most before related posts begin to pop up in my Facebook newsfeed. These are invariably posted by Christians, and are always urging support for Israel. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen in the past three or four days with slogans like “I stand with Israel, and so should you!”

Such posts trouble me greatly, and I’d like spend just a few moments unpacking why. I don’t have long, so I’ll try to be brief. (Ha ha, I hear you say.)

First, apart from any theological considerations, such posts espouse and propagate a simplistic worldview in which there is always a hero and a villain, a clear-cut case of right and wrong. Anyone who honestly thinks there isn’t a lot more to this situation than meets the eye — or rather, than our extremely biased media, which use fear and drama to sell stories, would have us believe — is seriously living in La La Land and needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

There is always, always, always more going on than the media-fuelled propaganda would have you believe. The back-story to any news item is always far more complex and messy than the headlines suggest. To get more of a feel for just some of the complexities that lie behind the current morass in Israel and Gaza, just read this article in the New York Times. Sadly, Christians often seem to swallow the simplistic headlines more quickly than anyone else — especially when doing so fits their judgemental, God-will-slay-the-infidels paradigm.

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Glory!

Worship concertFor the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

Christians love to talk and dream about the glory of God. In fact, I would venture so far as to say that the manifestation of God’s glory is one of the most highly prized and sought-after phenomena in the charismatic and pentecostal segments of the church.

Biblical references to God’s glory being manifested abound. Whether it’s the bush that burned but was not consumed, Moses being allowed a glimpse of the glory from behind as God passed by, or the priests being unable to minister into the temple because the glory fell, there’s plenty of biblical precedent for awe-inducing encounters with the glory of God.

In keeping with these Old Testament accounts, many Christians tend to equate God’s glory with highly experiential phenomena. So, for example, we will talk about an intense worship time when God’s glory descended, or a conference where God revealed his glory. In fact, when you really think about it, these experiences of God’s glory tend to mostly be exclusively in-house affairs – events where Christians gather in eager anticipation and apparently experience the presence of God in an extraordinary way. In recent years, there’s even been a trend among some churches and groups of claiming to see visible “glory clouds” of gold dust when people break through to a particularly deep level of worship.

Now, let me say that I have no particular problem with the idea that God can choose to manifest his glory in this kind of experiential way. Indeed, at face value, the Old Testament examples I quoted above all seem to corroborate this. However, I don’t think this is how God primarily chooses to reveal his glory; in fact, I think it’s probably relatively unusual for him to show his glory in this kind of way.

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Chesterton on the folly of trying to learn success

help_2467310bIt is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation. If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than anyone else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners.

— G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered

These are remarkably prescient words when you consider that they were written before the First World War. If we heeded them, the self-help publishing industry would not exist. And perhaps we would be more content.

Don’t be afraid

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

— Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABCs of Faith

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