It is the nature of the media to zero in on drama — so it is no surprise that reports on the Middle East always emphasize whatever is most volatile in this troubled region. It is difficult, even for Christians, to avoid being caught up in the hyperbole and overheated rhetoric. Some people are just expressing their heartfelt fears, but then again there are those who seek to exploit the powerful emotion of fear to gain support for their cause. In the heat of the moment it is incumbent upon caring and thoughtful Christians to allow cooler heads to prevail. When it comes to matters in Israel, or anywhere for that matter, only God knows the end from the beginning. The rest of us need to exercise humility when it comes to pronouncements and predictions.
Still, alarmists continue to ring their bells loudly and raise fears. And while I would not minimize the serious nature of matters in the Middle East, I hope you will consider the following as a balance to some of what you might be hearing.
Many dire warnings have been uttered over Ariel Sharon’s efforts to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza, dismantling Jewish settlements in the process. Rev. Pat Robertson even attributed the Prime Minister’s recent stroke to God’s judgment for this. Under pressure, Rev. Robertson apologized for his remarks — but they are typical of an attitude that is prevalent among some Christians.
Of course, many are far more sensitive in expressing their feelings. Several Christians have approached me with tears of concern over the dismantling of these settlements. When I tell them that the majority of Israelis are in favor of this, they seem shocked. But what about God’s promise of the Land being given to Israel?” they ask. I point out that yes, God did make promises concerning Israel and He will keep every one of them . . . but the promise of Land is conditional upon Israel’s obedience. Since Israel is now in disobedience, we cannot assert that divine right without reservations. Further, I don’t know anyone who is ready to argue for Israel to try to take today all the land that God promised to Abraham: “. . . to your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). Those borders would cede to Israel much of the territory of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. I personally believe God will fulfill His promise concerning this territory during the earthly reign of Christ. Until then, Israel is trying to negotiate what she feels is in her best interests in the purpose of peace with her neighbors.
The Bible says to “. . . love your neighbor as yourself. . .” (Leviticus 19:18), and Israel’s most important neighbors are the Palestinians. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Israel should give in to terrorists. Some Christians believe that since Hamas won the election, all Palestinians must be in favor of suicide bombings. But that’s not true. The Palestinian vote for Hamas was not a vote for terrorism. It was a vote against corruption, and Hamas stood head and shoulders above Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party in terms of delivering social services to the Palestinian people.
Only time will tell if Hamas will be able to transform itself into a legitimate government. The odds appear to be against it, but it is not impossible. Certainly Menachem Begin, before he became Israel’s Prime Minister, was once a member of Irgun, which many would say was a terrorist organization. The responsibilities that come with governing may be the best possible deterrent to terrorism among Hamas loyalists. In the meantime, we must remember that Jesus died for Arabs as well as Jews and He loves them all equally. God promised blessing for the descendants of Ishmael as well as for the descendants of Isaac (Genesis 17:19-20). We should not have an either/or mentality when it comes to caring for Israelis and Palestinians, but rather count on God to fulfill His promises to both.
The Bible admonishes, “. . . Let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Concern for our brothers and sisters in the Land of Israel should be a priority, whether they are Israelis or Palestinians. In a recent interview in “Christianity Today,” Justus Reid Weiner, scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said, “The P.A. (Palestinian Authority) would like to continue to put forward the image that they are protecting Palestinian Christians. But . . . Christians have left in unprecedented numbers . . . The Christian leaders are intimidated.” While things are not nearly as bad for Jewish believers in Jesus, there are problems. We described in a previous “RealTime” the persecution of believers in the city of Arad. Well, things haven’t gotten a whole lot better since then. But there is a huge difference to keep in mind here.
When Palestinian Christians are persecuted, the Palestinian government is often complicit in that persecution. But when Jewish believers in Jesus are persecuted, it usually comes from among religious or Orthodox groups and not the government per se. Israel is a democratic country that upholds freedom of religion. Yet a recent letter sent to Christians around the world from the “Messianic Action Committee” implied that legislation may soon be passed that would “criminalize the proclamation of our faith in Jesus.” This appears to be a case of some believers “crying wolf.” There is no such legislation before the Knesset at this time and most likely a victory for the Kadima party recently formed by Ariel Sharon would give less, not more, power to the religious groups that oppose Christians. Nevertheless, we should be concerned for the well-being of all believers in the land.
What to do?
The Bible admonishes us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem. . .” (Psalm 122:6). We should pray for peace between the believers in the land who often find occasion to quarrel with one another. We should also pray for the Prince of Peace to rule and reign in the hearts of unbelievers, both Jews and Palestinians.
Yes, Christians should be concerned about events in the Middle East today. Yet our concerns should not be directed toward the sensational like “ashes of the red heifer” and end times prophecy. Even the current political climate and peace process does not serve well as the focal point of our concern. The only hope for peace is found in the One who was born in the Middle East long ago. Jesus the Messiah is bringing peace to the hearts of Palestinians and Israelis that follow Him. When Arabs and Jews can say to one another, “I love you in Jesus’ name,” the world will see the reconciling power of the gospel. That is our hope. Let’s be careful not to pay too much attention to those alarmists ringing bells of fear. Instead, let’s stand with those who ring the gospel bell of peace through Jesus, the Prince of Peace.