This is an unreferenced overview of a longer summary of my response.
How do we/should we respond to the horror of what happened on 7 October 2023 (10/7) in southern Israel and now the war in Gaza and other Palestinian areas?
I respond consciously as a follower of Jesus, from his worldview of God’s kingdom come in his ministry, death, and resurrection. In offering this guidance to think through and respond to the Middle East crisis, I don’t speak for any church, denomination, or organisation.
Our first response as followers of Jesus is to weep and lament.
Soon after 10/7, people began asking me for my response. I repeatedly said, “Jesus wept.” Why? This shortest verse in the Bible shows Jesus weeping with those who weep in the pain and loss of death. The Middle East crisis is very emotional and divisive. We first turn to God and lament the evil that has taken place, weeping with all who weep, processing emotions. We lament for humanitarian reasons: each life is sacred. Lament is the power of prayer that protests in the courts of heaven, invoking God’s justice and salvation. We leave judgement to God, The Judge of all, including the spiritual powers that drive the conflict.
We cannot keep silent – but we must speak from silence.
We cannot and must not keep silent in the face of the evil that has taken place. It must be condemned. But, we must speak from the silence of listening, learning from all sides of the conflict to discern truth. Then, when we speak, we echo silence, and people hear truth. The divisive nature of this war clouds how we see and hear. Words and names trigger us to label people ‘for’ or ‘against’ to secure our existing narrative. We must sift the information, video clips, disinformation, and propaganda, to distinguish truth from the political ideologies and legitimizing theologies at work – the spiritual powers that condition our thinking.
Give disclaimers – define terms, draw distinctions and degrees.
A responsible response requires disclaimers, defining terms and making distinctions. Truth is the first causality of war. Thus, we give disclaimers like “to the degree this has been fact-checked and verified as true…” To be nuanced is not being ‘neutrally balanced’ or ‘politically correct’, it’s to account for our assumptions. So, we define the ideologies and theologies behind the conflict, and distinguish between key ideas and groups, such as: Jihadist Islam and moderate Muslims; Hamas and Palestinians; Judaism and Zionism; Israelis and the Israeli government; anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (my summary paper has the details). By conflating/equating these, we stereotype ‘the other’ and treat them accordingly.
Resist the pressure to take sides – side with truth, justice, peace-making.
The pressure to take sides has split the world into pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. It’s not a matter of, “are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13-14), but are we on God’s side? To side with God in the conflict is to side with truth and justice, as Jesus said, seek first God’s kingdom and his justice. We oppose injustice no matter who perpetrates it. Morality cuts both ways. Jesus and the prophets were not neutral regarding truth and error, right and wrong. What Hamas did on 10/7 was evil. For Palestinians, Israel’s destruction of Gaza to exterminate Hamas is genocidal collective punishment. So, in siding with God, Jesus taught his followers to hunger for justice, make peace, reconcile relationships, transcend “an eye for an eye” by non-violent resistance of evil, as in doing good and loving one’s enemies.
Discern the powers behind – the justifying ideologies and theological legitimizations.
Holy War? Just War? Or Non-violence? We must define and distinguish between these three traditional theologies to see how each side uses them to legitimize what they’re doing. For Hamas, it’s holy war to exterminate Israel. Israel uses just war to legitimize their actions to destroy Hamas. When Israel’s Netanyahu compares Hamas to the “Amalekites”, he invokes Old Testament holy war. Many Christians support Israel on a just war (even holy war) basis. Jesus ended Old Testament holy war in his sacrificial death to defeat evil. He renounced violence, the Law of Just Retaliation (“an eye for an eye”, Matthew 5:38-42), as a means of settling conflict. Jesus lived and taught self-sacrificing non-violence to defeat evil, bringing his reconciling kingdom into places of pain, division, and conflict.
Liberation Theology. A political theology that uses fixed Marxist categories of social analysis to legitimize the liberation of the oppressed, with a ‘just revolution’ to overthrow the oppressor – by force if necessary. To the degree it is used to legitimize the Palestinian struggle for justice with the use of violence, it serves the ideological powers of Hamas.
Dispensationalist Theology – Christian and Jewish Zionism. Many evangelical Christians support Israel from an underlying dispensationalist theology: God deals with humanity in dispensations, first Israel, then the church, then Israel in the end-times. This gave birth to Christian Zionism, which preceded Jewish Zionism, the ethno-nationalist ideology behind the establishment of Israel in 1948. This theology teaches two people of God in two covenants with two destinies. Jews are God’s chosen people of the Abrahamic covenant with the destiny of the land. Christians are the church of Jesus’ new covenant with a heavenly destiny, raptured into heaven before the Anti-Christ and the tribulation. So, for Christian Zionists, Israel is key to God’s purposes: every event that happens in the Middle East is interpreted as end-time fulfilment of unfulfilled prophecies. The result is uncritical support for Israel and Netanyahu’s far-right Zionist coalition. They label those who don’t support Israel, “replacement theology” Christians – anti-Semites. Besides misinterpreting scripture, it demands loyalty to Israel, giving no room for nuance or critical engagement. That’s a sure sign, among others, of dispensationalist Zionism being in service of ideological power.
So-called Replacement Theology. Traditional theology doesn’t use “replacement”. Christian Zionists use it of their critics, saying Reformed covenant theology teaches the church has replaced/superseded Israel as God’s people. The New Testament uses “fulfilment” in Christ. Paul warned Gentile Christians not to be arrogant regarding Jews, thinking they’ve replaced Israel, calling Jews “Christ-killers”, etc. It’s anti-Semitism, the seeds of the Jewish holocaust. To the degree such ideas are used by Christians to criticise or reject Israel, and/or to support the Palestinian cause, it’s in service of the ideological powers that divide and rule.
Jesus and Apostolic Kingdom Theology
Traditional covenant theology teaches one people of God in one covenant with one destiny, fulfilled in Messiah. “Covenant” is a subset of “kingdom of God”, which was Jesus’ mission of fulfilment and lens of interpretation. He didn’t abolish (replace) Torah and the Prophets but fulfilled them (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled ALL God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), including the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants in the “new covenant” of his kingdom, sealed in his blood. It redefined the people, land, city, and temple, transcending the territorial faith of Judaism. God’s people are all who believe the gospel of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. They are Abraham’s children, heirs of the promises. Circumcision is of the heart, not the flesh. Unbelieving Jews are distinguished from believing Israel: they’re cut off and Gentile believers are joined to believing Israel. There will be a revival of ethnic Jews at the end of the age when all Israel will be saved. But that doesn’t imply return to the land. The holy land is God’s kingdom come in Jesus, with the inheritance of the nations, the earth. The temple and its sacrificial system, which ended in AD 70 as Jesus predicted, was his body and ministry of the kingdom. God’s Jewish-Gentile people, the church, is now the temple in which he dwells. The city is transcended in the heavenly Jerusalem, “mother” of believers, while “present Jerusalem is in slavery (to sin) with her children” (Galatians 4:24-26, Revelation 11:8, 21:2).
The church doesn’t replace Israel but fulfils her calling and destiny in Messiah Jesus. We recognise modern Israel’s right of existence as restorative justice after a long history of suffering injustice. We don’t see Israel as the fulfilment of unfulfilled promises, but evaluate her on the basis of justice, as we do all nations. The only way (politically) to guarantee peace and security for Israel is to also guarantee peace and equality for Palestinians. Thus, we support a negotiated two-state solution, each within agreed secure borders.
Conclusion: Defeat the powers – be God’s people, be peacemakers.
Peace-making. To be God’s people is to be peacemakers, intervening in non-violent ways to break the cycle of violence, seeking a negotiated peace based on (relative) justice.
Presence. Peace-making is bodily presence. If Israeli and Palestinian believers crossed the divide, the wall of hostility that Jesus destroyed in the cross, they could repent, reconcile, and unite as Christ’s one Body in the land. They would then have authority in real terms to intervene to make peace, and thousands of international believers would join them.
Praying. We make peace by prayer and intercession, our most powerful weapon of warfare to defeat the powers behind, because we address the sovereign God, ruler of the nations.
Prophesying. We do peace-making by proclaiming the good news of the Prince of Peace. And by speaking truth to power, fearlessly challenging injustices on both sides of the divide.
Protesting. We do peace-making by public protest, as and when required. Like Jesus and the prophets, we act out the truth we speak as and when needed for all to hear. Discernment is needed when it comes to public protests, so that we’re not in service of ideological powers.
May the Lord have mercy and bring shalom to Palestine and Israel.