October 19, 2023

Perhaps this is disappointing to some, but I am not the kind of pastor who feels the need to comment on every single event happening in the world. There are some pastors who can do that extraordinarily well and I admire their ability to be both loving and prophetic in winsome ways. But I don’t comment too much on world events because you could fill an entire encyclopedia library just with the things I know nothing about.

However, like many of you, my heart has been broken by the events happening in Israel and Gaza over the past several weeks. And I have especially thought of our Communications and Missions Assistant, Debra Norris, who lived and served as a missionary nurse in Gaza for many years. She spent time with Palestinian Muslims who attended the nursing school and she was in community with Palestinian Christians who attended the Gaza Baptist Church. For her, these are not just places and names on a screen; it was her home and these are her friends.

I do not know what to say in the face of such a heartbreaking situation. Here are three things I know that I am trying to remember during this time:

This is not about the end times. I know that’s a bold thing to say, but it is what I believe. I have had a handful of conversations with some of you about this and I know that it’s a live dialogue in your hearts and minds. Some of us grew up in a context and reading certain books that created anxiety within us whenever anything happens in the Middle East. And charlatan preachers love to try to portray themselves as arrogant experts who can read the tea-leaves of the evening news and tell you when, where, and how Jesus will return. Let me be clear: do not listen to these hucksters. After all, Jesus says that even he himself does not know when he will return: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) The New Testament does not tell us to wring our hands at the events of the international world; the New Testament teaches us to live out our faith in confidence despite what is happening in the world. He says just as much when teaching his disciples on the Mount of Olives: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” (Matthew 24:6)

This is a complicated situation. Wiser heads than mine are able to parse out all of the ethnic, cultural, and religious difficulties that have created the powder keg conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. And there are very heightened emotions on both sides: The Israelis have endured centuries of anti-Semitic treatment and feel they have a right to their own country; the Palestinians feel that they have been occupied by a military force trying to force them from their homes. When it comes down to it: there are heroes and villains on both sides of this conflict and we should avoid the temptation to typecast this conflict into an epic battle between “good guys” and “bad guys.” It’s complicated and atrocious acts of violence have been perpetuated by both sides (as happens in war). And any solution that involves the eradication of any people group is not only unwise, it’s un-Christian.

Our job is to pray for peace. My job is not to figure out this conflict. My job is to pray that the violence happening to both Israelis and Palestinians would be stopped. My job is to pray that God’s shalom would invade the hearts and minds of leaders and that this conflict would be resolved with the least amount of bloodshed possible. A few days ago, Amanda Tyler, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee was speaking to a church and commented on the Israeli-Hamas conflict. She said, “We must resist the urge to hold any government as sanctioned by God or that God is on any side of this war. Indeed, I believe that God weeps at the sight of God’s children killing one another. And God yearns for peace and, therefore, so should we.” My job is to yearn and pray for peace.

Let us all pray that peace can come to the land from which our faith was birthed. Like the prophet Isaiah, I am daring to pray, dream, and imagine that peace is possible:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
(Isaiah 65:25)

Next week I will reflect on Losing Our Religion will look at Chapter Three: Losing Our Identity (p. 103-152).

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