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.
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.
Second, moving onto the more theological aspects, this kind of post betrays the belief that we are still essentially living in Old Testament times. What I mean by that is that it assumes that God is mainly still the God of Israel before he is the God of anyone other people group. Moreover, it assumes that the modern day state of Israel is equivalent to the ancient people of Israel. To believe this is to completely miss the point of much of Jesus’ ministry (in which he went out of his way to reach out to outsiders and non-Jews) and much of the New Testament (which concerns the “grafting in” of gentiles and the spreading of the gospel far beyond Israel’s national boundaries). The easiest way to point out why this is terribly mistaken is to quote my favourite preacher Brian Zahnd: “In Christ, the Holy Land is the whole earth and the Chosen People is the human race”.
The third problem with this kind of post is that it assumes that God is partisan in any way. Because we humans tend to define ourselves and our societies along the lines of who’s “in” and who’s “out”, we have a hard time imagining that God could be any different. In fact, most often we simply assume without batting an eyelid that, when it comes to taking sides, God is just like us.
But the truth is this: if God is partisan at all, he’s certainly not on the team of those with rockets and missiles, whichever side of the Israeli border they happen to live on. He’s on the side of the wounded, the dispossessed and the grieving, whether they be in Israel, Gaza or anywhere else in this troubled world.
My fourth and final (for the time being) problem with such rabidly pro-Israel posts is that they enlist God in support of violence.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there are undeniably situations in which unmerited aggression has been done, and has caused grievous harm. At such times, it seems quite natural for every fibre of our being to cry out for justice — and justice in the form of fiery, God-licensed judgement. But in these times, we need to remember that Jesus — who is the perfect representation of the Father’s nature — unrelentingly preached love for enemies. When his disciples had, in their minds, good reason to call down fire from heaven, he told them they did not know what spirit they were of. And when his own freedom and life depended on aggressive self-defence, his only instruction to his disciples was to put away their swords.
Since Jesus told his first-century Israeli disciples that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, why do we imagine he would say anything different to those would seek to attach his name to their violent actions today, even when those actions are purportedly done in self-defence, as was Peter’s action in the Garden of Gethsemane?
To summarise, then:
1. This is not a situation in which there is one evil villain and one innocent victim. There is guilt on many sides — including the West — and there are multiple victims. To claim otherwise is disingenuous at best.
2. God has no favourites; or at least, if he does, they are the weak and the suffering, irrespective of nationality. The State of Israel has no special claim to God’s protection or favour just because it happens to share the same name and occupy the same land as his ancient people.
3. God’s not interested in vindicating the “right” and putting down the “wrong”. If he were, he would have to put down every one of us just as much as he would have to put down the Hamas radicals. For, as Dostoevsky famously wrote, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”.
4. The only violent god who exists is the one who is the imagined projection of our own violence. To use God to promote violence is to ignore that this is the same God who forgave all at the cross and whose first word after being raised from the grave following his brutal murder was Shalom, the word of peace.
[ Image: Alaa Ali ]