Over the last couple of weeks, my heart has been heavy over the turmoil erupting in Gaza between Palestinian and Israeli forces. As missiles and bombs dropped on buildings that serve as places of governmental power and countless lives were lost, the world turned our gaze toward the Middle East.
At the time of the publication of this article, a cease fire was ordered, pausing the destruction and hopefully moving these two warring nations toward a compromise of peace. Unrest in the land that is so sacred to both Muslims and Jews is nothing new, but the centrality of Jerusalem to the major religions of the world captivates our thoughts and emotions and draws us into the pillage and violence of both recent days and many centuries.
The psalter beckons us to pray for peace in Jerusalem, the capital city of the ancient Jewish monarchy and a city whose name speaks of the flow of peace to the rest of the world. For many Christians, praying for peace in Jerusalem is a prayer of action for political alliance with Israel. This prevalent viewpoint among Christians today is built around a biblical and sociological narrative of connection with the Israelite nation of the Scriptures.
Typically, such a correlation centers on one or more of the following arguments:
- Israel is God’s people, so Christians should always side with Israel to be on God’s side.
- God made a covenant with Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and through that nation others would be blessed or cursed by their response to the Abrahamic descendants.
- America was formed as a Christian nation on Judeo-Christians values, and therefore, we need to show allegiance to Israel.
- Jesus was a Jew and would want his followers to defend his people and his land.
- Prominent premillennialism teaches a view that before Jesus returns, Israel will be reestablished and the temple restored, so Christians should support the advancement of these developments ushering in the coming kingdom. In the eyes of those who espouse this view, a carte blanche support of Israel is advocated, primarily on spiritual grounds.
Yet, the Bible says otherwise. There are numerous times throughout the biblical account where Israel is in the wrong and God actually uses foreign powers to overcome Israel.
Thus, I ask you to consider these perspectives with me:
- God created all human beings in God’s image and commissioned humanity to peacefully govern and care for the created world.
- Even though the biblical account centers on the Israeli story, key figures outside of the chosen line (Ishmael, Esau) are given divine callings and purpose.
- The Israelite people were fallacious to assume they were living in right relationship with God when they were in the land or in broken fellowship when outside of the land.
- Jesus was fully capable of establishing an earthly kingdom in Israel and elected to focus on building a kingdom in the hearts of people.
- Jesus commissioned us to be peacemakers in the world, and praying for peace is not built on the assumption that one side overcomes the other but that all sides reach unity.
- The call to pray for Jerusalem was a call to pray for the city where one resides, regardless of where that may be.
- America was founded by believers of many faiths and denominations who fled lands where they were persecuted for their faith, yearning for a land where all are free to worship as they choose, regardless of religious preference.
- The specifics of Jesus’ return are interpreted through a wide array of viewpoints and most certainly do not necessitate a physical reconstruction of the national identity of Israel that compares to its Solomonic grandeur.
Therefore, as followers of Jesus, I encourage us to PRAY:
Pursue peace. As we pray for fellow Christians in the Middle East and for all human beings caught in the crossfire of this turmoil, may our greatest desire be for peace. We long for those at war to have their weapons turned into plowshares.
Remain at rest. Let us pray trusting fully in God and knowing that God is at work in every and all circumstances. The Lord’s kingdom is coming on earth in the hearts of people, and we are invited to be a part of the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus.
Advocate allegiance (to God). Avoid advocating for one side in a conflict. Being on Israel’s (or Palestine’s side) does not equate with being on God’s side. Let us seek to have God alone on the throne of our hearts.
Yield yourself. Surrender yourself to the Lord. Beseech that God might help you better understand ways you can bring peace into the world. Read about and befriend others from the Middle East and learn about the conflict. Join with both sides of the battle lines in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and seeking to live in peace in your “Jerusalem.”
If Christians in the West would avoid the polarization of taking sides, see all people as God’s image bearers and strive to demonstrate the compassionate, sacrificial love Jesus modeled, we might end up being more Christ-like, drawing others to a kingdom that is not of this world.
The greatest teacher once stood on the mountainside and said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Let us be the children of God, who act and pray for the peace of Jesus to come to all places and peoples of the world.
May our hearts not be troubled and let us not fear; Jesus does not give as the world gives and nor should we.
Patrick Wilson serves as senior pastor of Salem Avenue Baptist Church in Rolla, Mo. He is a graduate of Baylor University, earned two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Logsdon Seminary.
Apartheid in Palestine and a Christ who stands on the other side of the wall | Analysis by Chris Conley
Déjà vu: Jewish settlements in Palestine, U.S. policy and support from conservative Christians | Opinion by Wendell Griffen