Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blessing Israel?

            President Barak Obama has launched the State of Israel into a very bright media and political spotlight. Clearly there will be a vast number of political implications stemming from the President’s speech a week ago and the news media has wasted no time in analyzing these.

            The President’s remarks also bring theological and religious questions to the surface. The Holy Land carries with it very profound religious concerns. They are very real and very controversial—even among devoted and faithful Christians!

            The Bible explicitly states that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed (Genesis 12:3). Beginning some 130 years ago, a few Christians interpreted blessing to mean faithful followers of Christ must ensure the sovereignty and exclusivity of the Jewish State. Following the horrific evil of the Holocaust in WWII, this Christian belief became increasingly popular and was galvanized in the historic establishment of Israel in 1948.

            The military and political history of Israel in the past 63 years demonstrates tremendous economic and industrial progress along with horrific violence, controversial military domination, open aggression, and hideous discrimination against some of the Arab residents of the region.

            Supporters of Israel are quick to point out that the nation’s strong military and defensive tactics are necessary to defend her citizenry against a largely hostile Muslim dominance in the Middle East—and with good reason. Much of the violence that has permeated the Holy Land is perpetuated against Israel by strong religiously and politically motivated factions that despise Israel’s very existence.

            Many Christians see the blessing of Israel in a context of upholding and affirming Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, but cannot extend that blessing to a national policy that continually violates international laws by deliberately occupying the Palestinian territories and perpetually forces whole communities into the sort of desperate situation that actually fuels violent extremism in the form of outraged retaliation.

            This perspective understands our role as Christians as one of peacemakers and advocates for the grace, peace, and love embodied in Jesus Christ. Therefore, blessing Israel does not come in the form of turning a blind eye to the nation’s acts of aggression and actions that only fuel international tensions and help enflame religious passions throughout the Middle East. Rather, blessing Israel calls on the followers of Jesus Christ to work collectively with all residents of the Holy Land—Israeli Jews, Arab Muslims, and Arab Christians—to broker a meaningful and lasting peace that honors all three monotheistic faiths and their right to exist.

            Beyond the questions of blessing or cursing the State of Israel, there are perhaps far more significant questions raised by the continuing tension in the Holy Land—Questions for which there are no easy answers! Unfortunately, the simplistic and unilateral responses seem only to fuel more violence. As Christians, we clearly will not agree with each other on what blessing Israel means or what God requires of us in regards to the Holy Land. (Adding to the fury is the tragic reality that there are Christians on both sides of the debate who absolutely believe that all Christians must adhere to a specific theology regarding Israel thus making faithful dialogue among believers almost impossible.)

           While politicians debate the future of the Holy Land, perhaps we Christians would do well to come together, learn the broad history—taking into consideration Muslim, Jewish, and Christian interpretations of that history—and prayerfully work for a genuine peace that truly honors God and the children of God who call the Holy Land home! 

           Perhaps the first big challenge is separating ourselves from the knee-jerk, visceral, and emotional reactions that so frequently arise any time the subject of our national policy regarding Israel is mentioned. Let's be honest--Israel (and the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict) is a volatile issue for many. It is way too easy to hide behind our preconceived assumptions of what we know we already believe about the Holy Land and the inhabitants wrangling over the small piece of real estate. 


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