One of my perplexed questions

For a long time I have pondered concerning the actions and prayers of ‘believers’ – if we are pushing in a wrong direction does that cock things up, does it even work against a godly resolution – I will come to Gaza and Israel before I finish this post, but maybe start a little back from that. Of course what I write are ‘perspectives’ but they are based on certain presuppositions (I hesitated to write ‘truths’!!):

  • I do not believe that God controls the future in the sense of exercising omnipotence over all things. For sure God works in all things for a good / the best outcome. God is love, and that love is non-controlling (although I struggle with certain aspects of Oord’s ‘God can’t’ I certainly go with the premise of ‘Uncontrolling Love’). To believe in ‘sovereignty’ in the sense of control runs up against the justifiable ‘problem of evil’ objection.
  • There is no divide between the God of the OT and the God of the NT, but we are not invited to read OT genocidal commands as coming from heaven… we are invited to continue to read and in reading discover that the God who is one (Old and New Testaments) is the ‘Christlike God’. We must engage with the intra-canonical dialogue and disagreement of Scripture. Scripture disarms us as much as parts of it need to be disarmed.
  • (Relevant to Gaza / Israel – surely it is remarkable that there are no NT Scriptures that seek to pull on Ezekiel-type passages concerning Armageddon, the land as promise etc… The only way to get there is to start with a system and then fit the passages into that – something completely absent in the NT… and I include Revelation as apocalyptic (and certainly far from literal) literature in that assertion, which of course does mention the mythical place of Armageddon.)

We spent much time praying into the effects of the Civil War in Spain – and into some of the underlying history from centuries prior to that. A big concern was the burial of Franco inside a huge ‘cathedral’ hewn inside a mountain with the largest cross of its type above the tomb – some 200 metres high. That raised the question as to whether by placing the cross there corrupted the meaning of the cross but co-opted some of the power it symbolised. That is a huge assumption and if true (I think so) indicated why it was such a battle to see Franco’s body exhumed and moved. That experience and journey left me with a conviction that when something that is genuinely ‘of Christ’ is used (abused) it is not something neutral but co-opts what should be present for transformation and reconciliation for something that stands against genuine transformation and reconciliation. Moving on…

This then has given me my perplexed question. What happens if I as a believer in Jesus start to pray for (say) judgement against my enemies – does that in some way release something spiritual that has an outworking against my ‘enemies’, all the while Jesus is saying ‘Martin, love your enemy, bless those who curse you’?

What if, prayers that are ‘wrong’, in the sense of not flowing with the Christlike God and for the kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, actually frustrate the coming of that kingdom or indeed go further and they actually resist the kingdom of God coming? This is the heart of my perplexed question… and if (as I suspect I am partly on to something) it really troubles me.

My guess is that since so much of evangelical Christianity is shaped by (a modified) form of Dispensationalism there are huge amount of prayers that are along the lines of ‘give Israel victory, restore the boundaries to them’ being offered up to heaven in the current war scenario. If not prayers, then I doubt if from that quarter there are prayers being offered up for peace and reconciliation, or if peace is viewed as a good outcome it is as per Rome who built their temple dedicated to the god of peace (Pax) literally on the field that was dedicated to the god of war (Mars). Peace but how? Through war and subduing all the enemies – the way of all Imperial kingdoms / basileia . So different to the path of peace forged through the blood of Messiah – the way of the kingdom / basileia of heaven.

Into Gaza and Israel we have generational trauma on both sides; both groups have been wronged, and of course until we are healed of such wrongs we tend to believe that any wrong that we are now involved in comes under the heading of ‘justice’ – two wrongs making a right / a justice.

The kingdom does not advance and rejoice when blood is shed – blood shedding being one of the primary actions that pollute land and polluted land draws demonic strongholds to it in increasing measure.

I wish I could resolve my perplexed question with the answer that God does not listen to ‘wrong’ prayers, but sadly and painfully I have not been able to do that. If I am only partly right I pray God have mercy on us, forgive us as we do not know what we are doing. I have to increase my faith that God works in the midst of all the mess we have helped create.

God have mercy on… Israel, Jews, Gaza, Palestinian Arabs (many of whom have Jewish ancestry), God have mercy on us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace.

Dream and cry

I read this article this morning:

In it I read of Maoz Inon:

Maoz Inon — who swims every morning to keep from drowning in grief — says he’s experienced this other reality of peace. He and his wife opened a guesthouse in Nazareth in 2005 that serves both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. And he’s seen these two groups “not living next to each other but living among each other based on equality” in what Inon calls a shared society…

Inon says he had something of a vision after this war began. It was the middle of the night, and he awoke in tears.

“And I saw an image of everyone crying,” he recalls. “Just we all cry — you cry, your daughter cry, everyone. And our tears are healing the wounds from Israelis and Palestinians. And our tears wash the blood.”

He says we shouldn’t have more weapons, build higher walls and create better security systems. “That’s the old world, OK? You want to start a new world? We need to cry.”

“And then,” he says, “we’ll see the path for peace.”

The old world and the new. So provocative, for that is the language of the New Testament.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… e will wipe every tear from their eyes.

This vision is what has inspired countless thousands of those we know and many more of those we do not know, those who could echo those immortal words ‘I have a dream’. We can intellectually discuss the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of that fulfilment but any discussion has to be connected to current hope and faith.

Maybe, and I say maybe, we could globally be moving toward a turning point. I wrote, earlier this year, about the season where boundaries will become visible, with all that is written in Scripture on the area it is not a small side-issue. Gaza is a bloody reality that sadly is causing division among many who are no-where near the situation, more division than tears and a call for a peace path. The Roman pax-Romana was by the sword (hence Paul’s ironic critique of the sword in Rom. 12), peace by blood; the Jesus peace was by his own blood. There is all-but no hope currently – such was also the time when Jesus came, at the ‘fullness of time’ – when there was no hope for Jew nor Greek. What about now? I am sure we have entered a level of unprecedented crisis (many crises), and a big global sign is ‘no hope’. While out this morning I was praying realising that we pray for the transformation of the world – and indeed we must persist – it is not in God’s hands, but if we cry s/he will partner with us, partner with Maoz (regardless of faith nor ethnicity).

I have a dream, and maybe we wake up amidst the dream to tears and pain. Both have to co-exist.

It is complex… so here is another perspective

In what I write, if there are aspects I leave out please do not make assumptions as to what might be my take on those areas. My concern is we sit powerless against the level of catastrophe of Gaza / Israel. It is far enough away that it does not touch us directly, and if we add to that and we try and plot this against a prophetic ‘time-line’ that we are further paralysed but are then content in that we have ‘inside knowledge’. The centre of ALL of God’s purposes is Jesus – all the promises find their double ‘yes’ in him. Yes we have to nuance Israel as a people some with reference to Rom. 11 but not to the level of over-riding the centre. And beyond that…

1948 and the giving of the land (by the British) as a homeland to the Jews in order to be a solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ has not exactly resolved that issue! If as many assume that that act was a restoration of the land as a fulfilment of prophecy we should also consider that whenever God is active that the ‘enemy’ is active. The work of the enemy – and Paul says ‘we are not unaware of the schemes of the devil’ – is something we are to consider as we can easily unwittingly play along or fail to see what is happening. So with the above premise of enemy activity…

What if the land and promise is connected (not my view) then the enemy scheme would be to play with that, and dare I suggest that encourage us to lose sight of something bigger than the land, that of ‘kingdom’ or even ‘new creation’. The kingdom of God is righteousness, shalom and joy. The new creation is without tears, and harmony between peoples as they bring in their gifts to that new Jerusalem – the city that has no Temple.

That scheme would not be too difficult to execute. Biblically there would be more than enough texts and complete passages of Scripture to defend our view and lead to a blanket support of one side (Israel) in any confict, as God is with them (a theme that was VERY loud in the two major catastrophes in 586BCE and 70CE),

There has to be – and always has been a third way – that of ‘God is neither for us nor for our enemy’ (and of course ‘love for the enemy’ as advocated by Jesus does somewhat move us beyond what Joshua encountered). Add the wisdom of Solzhenitsin who said the line of good and evil never runs between ‘me’ and someone else, but through us both, and our allegiances have to be tempered.

Maybe also add the summary (as I read it) of Old Testament prophets as they chastised a people they identified with over the two-fold issue of ‘provision’ and ‘protection’ and where their trust was and I do not think there would be at this time a blanket support coming from any of them.

Yes it is deeply complex, how does a nation-state (not the same as a biblical nation) act when attacked? As those privleged (for now) not to be caught up in what is taking place, my plea is that in our powerlessness we ask not for the vindication of this side or that, but that sanity and humanity comes into the situation (at least that might be within our faith level even if calling for the righetousness, shalom and joy of the Spirit is beyond our faith level).

Wars and rumours…

We all know, even if we cannot quote the words of Jesus:

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. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs (Matt. 24:6-8).

All ‘signs of the end’ and when war breaks out, as it has in Israel, the above Scriptures often are quoted. I am no expert in the conflict(s) that have gone on since the establishment of the state of Israel (1948) but am aware that there is among some of Israel’s neighbours a desire to remove Israel from the map. I see enormous significance in what is happenning there – but do not believe there is anything in Scripture that is ‘prophesying’ this conflict. That frees me to pray for justice, resolution and an end to conflict. The Jesus-path is demanding, but it is always ever so close. The path of love, love your neighbour, love your enemy is always just right there… and in a hot-bed of potential revolt that was soon to overspill Jesus proclaimed ‘repent and believe in me’ for in so doing the kingdom of God could be entered as it was ‘at hand’. Those words, by Jesus, were the words that Josephus (a wealthy Jewish historian) used when he travelled north to Galilee a few decades after the death of Jesus. He travelled there to persuade the hot-heads who had had enough of Rome’s oppression not to rebel but to lay down their arms and to follow the path that he was laying out. His message to ‘repent and beleive in me’ was not a call to come to the front to repeat the ‘sinner’s prayer’ but to ‘change their mind’ and follow another path. The Jesus-path is always there – the ‘third way’ in every situation. The Jesus’ call is transcendental / spiritual, but also deeply political in the sense of being non-nationalistic.

I am not proposing a simplistic solution, but that we start with an understanding that we can sow into the non-polarisation of our world. God is not for ‘us’ nor for ‘our enemies’.

The words of Jesus that I quoted at the beginning as with all Scripture is NOT written to us. Jesus was NOT speaking to us; he was not addressing the 21st Century, but inot the days that lay ahead (culminating in the intense brutal war of 66-70CE) for the ‘you’ to whom he was speaking. It is written FOR us and remains deeply instructive in every situation, but we will not hear what it is saying into our situation is we assume it was written directly to us.

Years ago while travelling in the USA I was approached by an enthusiastic young man (I too was young back then). In his hands he had a set of videos from a ‘prophetic teacher of the end-times’. I had not seen the videos but could see that at the heart of them was a ‘time-line’ approach. This person asked me along these lines: ‘You are from Europe, and the antiChrist is going to rise within Europe and might already be present there, how do you handle that?’. My reply was – you have seen the videos, I have not. I need your help in knowing how to respond. So if we begin with prayer… in the light of the videos should I pray against the evils of antiChrist but maybe feel a little guilty about resisting what has been pre-ordaiined; or should I pray for the success of antiChrist as it would be in line with prophetic understanding – and then feel somewhat guilty in partnering with antiChrist?

The answer – I guess you can work that out. He had the videos and all the information… and all it could lead to was paralysis. No Scripture leads to paralysis but to a ‘what then should we do / how then do we live’ type of response.

I am deeply concerned about the current situation. It is likely to escalate. I am also deeply concerned about the prophetic time-line approach as paralysis will abound, and only contribute to the escalation.

Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, floods, pandemics, famines, refugees, climate crisis – yes all signs of the times: the times being of a generation that is hell-bent on destroying what God has given to us. The current conflict though cannot be used to plot a time-line. It can be used to further provoke our listening to the cry of the land for liberation to what we have subjected it to (Rom. 8). Israel was subject to Pharoah and cried out, the land is now in bondage to our ‘lording it over’ and is crying out. Can we join our cry to the cry of the land, even when we do not know how to pray?

If we pull out (Old Testament) Scriptures in a way that the New Testament NEVER does we might well advocate violence, but I suggest that if we pray for resolution and shalom we will be much more in line with the New Testament. And if we do so, political outworkings might be closer to ‘the wolf lying with the lamb’… closer to the biblical hope than to any set of texts used to prove a position.

  1. I know that the situation is deeply complex; issues of war and ‘self-defence’ cannot be resolved simply… but, neither are conflicts solved by any rhetoric that dehumanises the ‘other’. My plea is that for us who feel powerless that we do not submit to texts being quoted that leave us with information about the future while, by any reasonable standard, justice can be ignored.
  2. I am currently working my way through videos and writings on eschatology – ever so important as Scripture is written for us… but we have to avoid the errors of history that have sidelined the body of Christ by feeding us ‘information’ and the ‘inside story’. Following Jesus demands a level of ignorance so that our ‘knowledge of him’ far exceeds any other kind of knowledge – I think the original sin narrative speaks deeply into that.
  3. I am hoping in the not-too-distant future to have a zoom evening with a Christian Arab Palestinian who is an Israeli citizen, to hear from her, be better informed – I am working on a suitable date and will let you know by posting here. dates will be posted here. She has been in touch with Amy Bell (Cádiz) and wrote from Jerusalem:

I’m shocked, scared but mostly super sad. I feel that people from all sides are dying just for nothing. and I was praying to be able to do something even if it is small. I would like to explain the situation here to people who want to know. It’s very complicated, and I truly believe that if you stand with one side and cancel the other, then you do not understand what is going really here. and since I believe that only real change can bring real peace, I would love to share about what’s happening here from my point of view. as a Christian Arab Palestinian woman living as an Israeli citizen.

I hope you can join us…