By David Jones
There’s renewed violence in Israel, and I’ve joined millions who are somehow both outraged and too fatigued to get terribly upset.
The news breaks it down for me, and I nod absently. I stare blankly at the numbers of dead. How many were just plain folks trying to live peaceably with their neighbor? How many were innocent children? Seems there are always children involved. I used to imagine they were my children, but I can’t conjure that connection anymore.
Both sides are saying they’re just retaliating for something the other people did. There’s never a shortage of outrage fuel on either side.
I read the stories of Jews and Arabs, both angry over the cruel disregard for life shown by those on the other side of the barbed-wire perimeters and armed checkpoints. I identify with the misery of ordinary people for a bit, then I close the report and close my eyes against fatigue and a pounding head.
The other night I slid into the comment section of a news post to leave a thought, something from a couple of books written about Genesis and Exodus by Peter Enns. He mentioned that the history of Israel, in patterns both obvious and cloaked, is a story about land—a paradise given and then lost. A gathered people who are promised a land to call their own.
The Promised Land. The land conquered. The land cultivated. The land ruled. The land lost, over and over. The land regained. In every step Jewish identity seems tied to this piece of land.
My comment drew the ire of a young man who lobbed a chunk of Deuteronomy at me to educate me on how the Hebrews slaughtered the land’s native inhabitants to get it in the first place. I said I was familiar with it, but that I still look to find understanding in it, to find meaning. That made him angrier.
He demanded to know what possible meaning could be found in this violence. I replied “first, breathe.” Then I draped my Blanket of Comfort over him, sending peace. I explained how this people’s very identity was inextricably tied to that chunk of land, which explains why so many refuse to let go of even one grain of sand for anything or anyone. To some, any scenario where the Israelis have to share that grain of sand is unacceptable—it’s all or nothing.
When I explained that understanding was not the same as approval, he relaxed and we parted on good terms. A couple of others tried to toss an angry word or twelve at me, and I retaliated with peace and common humanity. Soon no one else was sending any angry comments my way, and I trust folks found some relief.
One of the points I made was that I don’t believe God cares who lives where but instead worries about how we treat ourselves and each other. In my experience God doesn’t care about territory, and I don’t think He ever did.
The Old Testament, I explained to the young man, wasn’t a record of stuff God said or did. It was a record of a people, of the things they said and did which they connected to their personal God. It’s the stories of people working to define their collective identity, to find explanations for their experiences, and to understand their place in the world.
Every exile they suffered meant the loss of their land and thus their very identity, their very lives; every return to the land was a resurrection, the rebirth of their identity.
It’s no wonder that, for some Israelis, there can be no solution that involves Palestinians. People who aren’t “us” living on “our land” just isn’t acceptable to some.
After all that I ran across a comment that really hit me: someone posted “They have to stop this!” I replied out loud, “No. No they don’t.”
They don’t have to stop this. They’ve proven that for decades. Think about all the prayers that have been said to stop the hatred and violence and suffering, yet it continues. Every prayer said in response to the violence and death is just a reissue of the previous one.
I don’t blame God for any of this. He isn’t stopping this violence because that’s not how God works, no matter what a church, a book, a religious teacher, or a devout believer says. No matter what you’ve been taught about how God and prayer work, centuries of prayers and dogma haven’t stopped any of this. It’s not up to God, because despite all of the claims of God’s leadership in these matters, it’s people doing the hating, the killing, the corrupting of this world.
God doesn’t have anything to do with it.
So now I pray for Jerusalem and Israel and Gaza and that whole region, but I don’t pray for peace. No, as hard as it is for me (a person who internalized Jesus’s words that Peace Makers would be called the Children of God) to admit, peace isn’t doable in some places. Peace is simply what we call the absence of blatant and obvious fighting. A cease fire is often just a time-out to reload.
No, I’m not praying for peace, I’m praying for resolution.
The answer isn’t about stopping the fighting, it’s about resolving the issues which lead to the fighting. Until there’s resolution, peace will be out of reach.
I also pray for the people, that they may be freed from the delusions they’re mired in and that in some way they may find peace when all around them is chaos. Well look at that, praying for peace when I said I wouldn’t.
May the children have peace enough to sleep tonight.
May the adults have peace enough to treasure life, both theirs and others’.
May those around the world have peace enough to spread it widely as if sowing a great field.
And may I do what I can to bring some measure of peace to others, with compassion and love.
Because that…that right there…that’s how God works.
Editor: Dana Gornall