How can Christians pray in a war where people are killed?
This reposted image-meme is recently making the rounds online. I think many Christians feel the same, but are also confused and overwhelmed. Here are a couple of important truths. True love and grace for Arabs in the Middle East does not mean compromising on truth. The God of the Bible does not do that. Grace and truth go together, always. Firstly, I love and have compassion for the Arab peoples caught in an ideology of death, lies, and violence. My biblically mandated love does not, however, require that I accept a false premise of a “Palestinian” national people. It is a convenient fiction which Arabs themselves (like PLO leader Zahir Muhsein) have admitted was very recently invented to fight Jewish independence in Israel. One simple example is the common and telling “Palestinian” surname “al-Masri” which simply means, “The Egyptian.” Secondly, I find it disturbing to pair the thought above with a picture of a kid sporting “Free Palestine,” which just means “Free” the land from Jews, coupled with a Haredi Jewish kid wearing a PLO scarf. This picture is also either faked, which many famous images like it were during the Oslo days (see the revealing Haaretz article below). Or, it is a real picture featuring the weird minority of extremist anti-Zionist Haredim in New York or elsewhere. Using children for politics like this is also unseemly. There is a needed truth to love and pray for the Arab enemies of Israel. But too often it is coupled with penchant for bartering away the truth in the name of misguided compassion.
Consider some of these biblical truths. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, rather that he should turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 18:23). It stands to reason, if a murderer does not turn from his murderous attempts, he might also not live. “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13). There is much debate over this well-known passage. All the same, it does say that legitimate authorities do not “bear the sword in vain.” Turning the other cheek applies when someone personally insults you, but it does not biblically extend to legitimate judges and rulers of a society. That would make a mockery of justice.
I am reminded of the difference between two famous Christian leaders during WWII, Watchman Nee and Rees Howells. Watchman Nee was convinced that his flock must remain neutral during WWII or else risk losing their witness to former combatants on both sides after the war. In contrast, Christian intercessor Rees Howells led his Bible school in deep prayer for the Allies throughout the war. He did not permit those praying to sleep any more than soldiers on the front. He took it on as a personal obligation to defeat Hitler himself in prayer. I believe Howells made the right choice.
Christian pacifism has a long history which space does not permit me to address here. Suffice it to say that it is based on replacement-theology which attempts to interpret only the New Testament as normative, while in some sense relegating the Hebrew Bible (the “Old Testament”) as something old, passé, and not normative. Interpreting 25% of the Bible, while in some sense disregarding 75%, should be the definition of taking something out of context. And Christian pacifism does not work. Even the heroic pastor and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was inspired by Gandhi and WWI to become a committed pacifist, felt morally compelled to partake in the assassination attempt against Hitler! If you struggle with ideas of pacifism, you may want to consider different sides of the issue in “The Morality of War” (Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics by Scott B. Rae). (If you are an anti-Zionist, I’m surprised if you have read this far and there is a whole other discussion that needs to be had.)
If you are not grounded in the truth of Scripture and history, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with complexity. Whenever actual conflict resurges, the airwaves immediately begin a bombardment with subtle deceptions and animosity toward Israel—the world’s only Jewish state. Times of open conflict make it even that much harder for anyone to listen to the truth. Some Evangelical organisation in the Middle East even find the whole issue of Israel to be a “stumbling block” for the gospel. They effectively try to trade away Israel to win more Arabs for Jesus. The results are few and produce some of the most anti-Zionist Christians you will ever meet. God will not grant a great harvest in the Arab world to an Israel-hating, replacement-theology “gospel.” It is also a betrayal of those Arab Christians who under great threat and persecution stand for God’s Word and truth regarding Israel. We personally know of a few who can never go public or else they risk loosing their lives.
Too many Arabs are steeped and trapped in indoctrinating lies from childhood. The answer is not to compromise with untruths in the name of misguided emotional compassion. It may also require miraculous signs for many to be set free. The Six-Day War was a severe blow to jihadist faith in the Middle East. Islamism was deeply shaken, but it revived after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when Khomeini said they lost to the Zionists only because they were too backslidden. Muslims must recommit. Any future losses in today’s Middle East cannot be explained away so easily. Hamas needs to see the fact that the God of Israel supernaturally fights for Israel. Pray that this truth will set more people free. Psalm 83 says, “Cover their faces with shame, LORD, so that they will seek your name...Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth” (Ps 83).
A wise Jewish proverb says, we should pray for miracles, but not rely on them. I recently sent out the official “Prayer for the State of Israel” and the “Prayer for Israel’s Defense Forces” including prayers for granting Israel military “victory.” But many Christians feel they can only pray generally for peace, and hope for the best. Maybe it will just go away soon and all violence will stop. At most, they pray for God to strike the enemy with “confusion,” and hope the rockets miraculously end up in the sea. That might happen. But praying for the IDF to have wisdom and victory in stopping jihadists from killing both innocent Jews and Arabs, may legitimately entail that those jihadists die. That is not unbiblical to pray for. The key is that it saved other innocent victims from dying and going to their graves. This may even extend to innocent bystanders who die in war. As Naftali Bennet recently put it bluntly on Al Jazeera, by turning a private home into a rocket launcher, it is the same as if Hamas effectively murdered those innocents too. If it necessary in order to protect innocent lives, including undo risk to the soldiers’ own lives, it is the justified obligation of a nation to kill such murdering jihadists if they refuse to stop their attempted killings. According to the British Col. Richard Kemp, Israel has done more than anyone in the history of warfare to protect the rights of civillians in a combat zone. Israel drops non-explosive “roof knocking” devises, drops leaflets, and even make personal phone calls to residents, well in advance of hitting a sensitive target! Any further resulting deaths are squarely on the heads of the jihadists. That blood will require a reckoning from Hamas on Judgment Day.
Some observers also wonder how the number of casualties can be so skewed. This is either a disturbing way of asking why more Jews can’t just die, or it is moral confusion. A battle between good and evil is not somehow supposed to be an “even fight.” The reason the casualty number in Israel is tragic, but low, is because Israel does everything it can to keep it low. The reason the death toll in Gaza is also tragic, but so low, is because Israel (not Hamas) does everything it can to keep it that low. Israel has the full capability of wiping out all of Gaza. But they don’t because they don’t want to hurt anyone unnecessarily. One should also keep in mind that most death tolls reported by the media or the UN are generally just taking Hamas’ own “honourable” word for it. This, coupled with the well documented phenomenon of “Pallywood”—staging tragedy, photo ops, and funerals—effectively render Gaza death tolls wild guesses in the dark. Israel has good values, independent democratic institutions, and a free press to keep it honest. Hamas and the PLO’s relationship with the truth is simply absurd. It doesn’t even factor in.
Pray for the Arabs in Israel, in Gaza, in Lod, in Ramallah, in Shechem, in Bethlehem, in Hebron, in all the Middle East. Pray that those jihadists who try to murder the innocent are stopped. Pray that truth will prevail and deliver those who are trapped in lies and darkness. Pray Psalm 83, that the jihadist spirit will be humiliated and that many will see that the LORD God of Israel is the true and living God, who will not allow Israel, His “firstborn son,” to be destroyed. Pray that the love and truth of the gospel would pierce the darkness. Pray for those brave Arab believers who already stand with the truth in God’s word regarding Israel.
Christian Relations Director
Cry For Zion, Jerusalem
Sources and Digging Deeper
1. Zahir Muhsein was a “Palestinian” leader in the terrorist organisation PLO. He told the following to the Dutch newspaper Trouw in a 1977 interview: “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism for tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem.” More facts can be brought to support this, but this is enough to make the point.
2. Haaretz: “Staged: Ricki Rosen’s photograph meant to depict an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem has been reproduced hundreds of times. Iconic Mideast Photo Was a Fake — and a Heartbreaking One, at That.” https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/iconic-mideast-photo-was-a-fake-1.5342249
3. Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.
4. Official Prayer for the State of Israel: “Our Father in Heaven, Israel's Rock and Redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving kindness and spread over it the Tabernacle of Your peace. Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and counselors, and direct them with good counsel before You. Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them deliverance, our God, and crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants. As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel, remember them in all the lands of their dispersion, and swiftly lead them upright to Zion Your city, and Jerusalem Your dwelling place, as is written in the Torah of Moses Your servant: “Even if you are scattered to the furthermost lands under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and take you back. The LORD your God will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you will possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. Then the LORD your God will open up your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30). Unite our hearts to love and revere Your name and observe all the words of Your Torah, and swiftly send us your righteous Messiah of the house of David, to redeem those who long for Your salvation. Appear in Your glorious majesty over all the dwellers on earth, and let all who breathe declare: The LORD God of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all. Amen, Selah.”
5. Official Prayer for Israel’s Defense Forces: “May He who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, bless the members of Israel's Defense Forces and its security services who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God from the Lebanese border to the Egyptian desert, from the Mediterranean Sea to the approach of the Aravah, and wherever else they are, on land, in air and at sea. May the LORD make the enemies who rise against us be struck down before them. May the Holy One, blessed be He, protect and deliver them from all trouble and distress, affliction and illness, and send blessing and success to all the work of their hands. May He subdue our enemies under them and crown them with deliverance and victory. And may there be fulfilled in them the verse, “It is the LORD your God who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to deliver you” (Deut. 20). And let us say: Amen.”