This past week the news has been dominated by one story: the situation in Israel and Gaza. In all honesty sitting down to write about this feels hard – the situation is so complex and far beyond my comprehension. But it is good for us to grapple with issues from a faith perspective, even when they are difficult.
I have had people ask me to explain to them the historic and ongoing tension between Israel and Palestine. It’s hard to know what to tell them when the issues run so deep. The reasons for the tension vary depending on which angle we look at it from, and it is difficult to discern whether Western media outlets and politicians hold an unconscious bias in either direction. However, what I am in no doubt of in this past week is that the brutal murders, rapes and abductions carried out by Hamas are nothing less than a callous act of terrorism. It is an action that has not only caused suffering to Israelis but caused further harm for Palestinians too.
How long, O lord?
My heart aches when I see the unprecedented, unjustified suffering of hundreds of innocent Israelis. The pain that they are suffering as a nation, as well as the pain of all Jews across the world is unfathomable. My heart also aches for Palestinians in Gaza who are the ones suffering from Israel’s retaliation, when it should be Hamas that pay the consequences of their actions.
As my phone lights up with news notifications, I find the words from Psalm 13 repeat themselves over and over again in my mind: how long, o Lord? How long must countries and religions feud? How long must nationalism and terrorism reign? How long must innocent civilians suffer? How long until justice rolls and peace is restored? How long, o Lord?
All lives are precious
As I scroll through X my feed is full of tweets (if they’re still called that) with varying perspectives on what is taking place. There are the views of those most directly impacted by the violence: Jews crying out for greater recognition amongst non-Jews of the antisemitism that remains in the world today; and Arabs crying for freedom from forceful occupation in Palestine. Both are sets of voices that need to be heard.
Then there are those removed from the situation, weighing in with their perspective. Christians debating what the Bible has to say about modern day Israel. Fringe politicians flying the flag of anti-colonialism as justification in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack. Neither are particularly helpful.
It is so easy to get caught up in arguments over social media. It is so easy to pick a side and choose bible verses that back up the opinion that we have already formed. It is so easy to overlook the fact that the thousands of lives that have already been lost were known and precious in the sight of God – Israelis and Palestinians alike. Not one of those lives was less valid than the other because all were made in the image of God.
Taking a prayerful stance
In our longing to see justice, our knee jerk reaction should not be to take to social media to express a political stance but should instead lead us to our knees to make a prayerful stance. Any political engagement that follows should come from a place of recognition that all people are intrinsically valuable, all loved but sinful and in need of God’s grace.
My prayer this week is simple, yet one that feels impossible: “bring peace, harmony and justice to the Middle East, Lord”. And as I wait for my prayer to be answered, I mourn with those who mourn, whatever faith they follow, whatever nationality they are – because that is what it means to be a follower of Christ.
From every tribe, tongue and nation
Complicated and fractured relationships between nations is nothing new, the Bible is one big story of nations divided. However, we know the conclusion of this story, one that has not yet come but that we can look forward to with renewed hope:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)
And so, as we engage in conversations around the unrest, we are able to say that while we do not have the answers now, we know the answer that is to come. We await the day when every tribe and tongue and nation will live in harmony, worshiping their maker together. As Christians, may our main priority at this time be to weep with a hurting world, to strive for justice for those on both sides of the conflict, and to point those suffering towards an eternal peace.
For a deeper dive into how we engage with the situation in Israel and Palestine from a theological perspective, listen to the Evangelical Alliance’s latest episode of Cross Section.