In the chaotic maelstrom that is the Holy Land crisis, what principles can we glean from Scripture to guide our thinking?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #117 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
The complexity of terrorism, violence, and war in the Holy Land calls for thoughtful response.
Partisan, ideological, or street protest slogans are not enough, and in fact many of these are hateful, inflammatory, and clearly not something a Christian should think, say, or promote.
The ethnic nature of the conflict, dating back to Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael, Jew and Arab or Palestinian, involves not only nationality, disputed territory, and historic grievances but also religious or worldview differences, making this violent upheaval all the more complex.
Understandably, we can point to the Oct 7 Hamas barbaric attack on innocent, unsuspecting Israeli civilians and arrive at a point of moral clarity. Yes, those needless deaths were perpetrated by evil incarnate deserving of the harshest retribution and justice.
But then with first the bombardment of urban areas in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent advance of the Israeli Defense Force into Gaza with noncombatants inevitably killed and wounded, and the related humanitarian crises, what is right, just, and morally justifiable gets murkier.
But as soon as you suggest any murkiness here, you’ll likely hear from Israel proponents saying there is no murkiness, no moral equivalency between what Hamas did and what the IDF now is forced to do in self-defense, in what Israel considers an existential fight, and the realpolitik of justice.
The proponents of Palestinians, including those who condemn Hamas and its terrorism, introduce another quandary that further muddies our desire for moral clarity.
They note that 60% of Gazans lived on some form of aid, no jobs, and struggling since 2006 under Hamas dominance that ignored the citizens while Hamas built its arsenal. These pro-Palestinians decry not only the bombardment, or any Israeli action really, they argue the West ignored Hamas for 18 years, allowing the timebomb to tick in the Gaza Strip. Others say, Hamas has been in charge for 18 years and did nothing to help the Palestinian people. In fact, Hamas leaders live in high-rise luxury hotels in Doha, Qatar, Beirut, and Istanbul.
Now, the war is personal. Many in the Arab World know someone who lives in Gaza, know people who have been killed, and, again, believe the West, specifically the U.S., is backing Israel to the point of perpetuating Palestinians and Arabs as second-class citizens. While it may be difficult to grasp why the U.S. is at fault here, still, this is how many in Arab countries feel and how they are parsing what’s happening.
Of course, one does not have to embrace all this perspective to be disturbed by the images of death and destruction now emerging from the Gaza Strip. Even if your inclination is to support Israel’s right to defend itself and hold Hamas accountable, suffering and death of noncombatants is gut-wrenching, for these casualties are real people, including children, and are not just “collateral damage,” nor are they mere numbers.
One of my colleagues noted this week that major news agencies are now rounding what in the Viet Nam War days we called body counts. In other words, say 7,457 people are said to be killed, but media reports 7400 or 7500, as if, as my colleague said, we’re talking about sticks or candy for Halloween. No, each number is a human being made in the image of God.
You don’t have to dismiss or ignore Hamas’s depraved massacre to care about innocent Palestinians caught in this war between an evil ideology and a nation state. So again, moral clarity is harder to come by.
Our best, most trusted, accurate, and powerful source of moral understanding is the Scripture, the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.
Consider these principles that speak not only into our understanding of the Holy Land crisis but of any and all trials we confront in this life:
- God is sovereign—omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent—so he’s never surprised, never uninvolved in earthly affairs. This doctrine is the basis of both accountability and hope.
- God is Creator and he loves all human beings made in his image, including every demographic,Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Iranians, Russians, Chinese, even Hamas and Hezbollah. This doctrine means that no human being is unworthy, expendable, of no consequence, but a person of eternal value. This is the basis of our understanding of human reason, moral agency, and freedom.
- In the Christian Church universal, what Scripture calls the Body of Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28. This doctrine clearly states that no one is beyond the care or reach of the Holy Spirit, and that heaven will indeed be the most diverse place we’ve ever been.
- We live in a fallen, i.e., sinful, evil, world, so wrong, wicked, depraved things happen. Unlike humanly devised philosophies and religions that have no ability to define sin and thus no way to respond to evil, biblical Christianity tells us the origin of sin and therefore the source of wrongdoing, not our environment, biology, or upbringing, but in our own hearts. This doctrine allows us to understand the need for law, criminal justice, and grace.
- One purpose of government is the legitimate use (police, military), as required, of coercive force as “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer,”thus to preserve order, restrain evil, create security, allow human flourishing, Rom 13:3-4. Because sin exists, humanity needs protection and a way to achieve justice, including, if necessary, the right use of violence; in other words, sometimes the only way to preserve peace is through violence.
- Israel is a nation state, which is not the same as the Jewish people, and Palestinians are not the same as Hamas. Christians too readily jump from the pages of the Old Testament into current affairs saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” While is its true that Jews are “God’s chosen people,” and it is true that God will work through Israel in the end-times, in the meantime, it behooves us to remember that no nation’s leaders, including in the U.S., are always right and moral, and no nation, including the U.S., is always right and moral.
- One can critique Israel’s response without being antisemitic or ignoring the nation’s legitimate defense of its people and plans to hold Hamas accountable, and one can care about Palestinian lives without supporting Hamas or ignoring their heinous actions, and one can desire Hamas faces retribution without being a warmonger. Nations are political actors and what they do can and should be critiqued. Evaluating Israel’s policies is not ipso facto anti-Jew or antisemitic but rather a political calculus regarding decisions enacted. Similarly, a people group like the Palestinians, can be critiqued for electing and among them many supporting Hamas, and at the same time it can be accurately said that most Palestinians are victims of a dictatorial hate group that seized control of the people and the territory.
- Calls for genocide of Palestinians or Israelis, coming from the Left and the Right, even shockingly from Christians and sadly from many American university students, are not morally justifiable. There is nothing in Scripture that endorses ethnic cleansing or genocidal mania. Yes, in the Old Testament, God called upon Israel to destroy different people groups, but one, he is God and we are not, two, this was a matter of idolatry not hate, and three, God at various times stopped this kind of thinking, for example Jonah’s desire for Nineveh to be destroyed when God wanted to call them to himself.
- God is not the author of evil, but he will even use evil of men to bring people to Christ. “Even in the darkest of times, hope and compassion can prevail. Looking back at the suffering ISIS brought to millions, and that the Islamic government has brought to its own people, we see that the Lord has used it to open the eyes of millions of Muslims to see what the true Islam is and to become open to the message of the Gospel.
- It's possible to work for justice and peace at the same time, pursuing a just peace, which has varied definitions but is not peace at any cost. This is practical. So often, we seem to think in either/or terms. Justice, rightly understood, is not contradictory to what God determines is peace. The problem with much current discussion is a belief justice equals peace, yet even protesters shout, “No justice, no peace.” Peace that is not built upon moral foundations defined by God is simply a temporary cessation of violence, not genuine just peace.
We often hear Christians calling upon God to do this or do that. But my friend and colleague John Frick made an interesting observation about this. In our prayers about the Holy Land crisis, John said, we should "avoid telling God what to do."
In other words, while we know God's character and much of his will revealed in Scripture, we do not know God's will exhaustively.
So, the point is, while we have our desires about how this war is resolved, and we can share these with the Lord, ultimately, we should say, "Lord, your will be done.
“The Psalms, and the entire Bible, though well aware of the human capacity for evil, also proclaim that evil will not have the last word.
Out of the depths of pain and sorrow, the believer’s heart cries out: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, You are my God’,” Ps 31:14.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. This podcast is about Discerning What Is Best. If you find this thought-provoking and helpful, follow us on your favorite podcast platform. Download an episode for your friends. For more Christian commentary, check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com.
And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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