I was at a party when I was in graduate school. I found myself at the hors d'oeuvres table chatting with a man who was on campus for a conference. He was the Episcopalian bishop of Palestine. As our conversation lengthened, he told me how hard life in the Middle East can be for Arab and Palestinian Christians.
This was an eye-opening moment for me.
Can we all agree that war is hell? And once those hounds of hell are unleashed horrible things can happen. Civilian casualties are reprehensible. When a Russian missile hits an apartment building or preschool everyone grieves. When innocent people become "collateral damage" the world is horrified.
The situation in Israel and Palestine is heart-breaking.
Perhaps the British government had the best intentions when they unrolled their colonial maps and created boundaries for Jews and Palestinian Arabs in 1946. But this arrangement has rarely enjoyed peace and stability.
But we need to understand this: despite all of the marvelous history of Israel, it is no longer the "Promised Land" of scripture. For the last 20 centuries, and especially the last 76 years, Israel is simply a nation. One of 195 political entities we call countries.
The moment Christ died, the world changed.
Do you remember what happened when he cried, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit?" The veil of the temple was torn. And do you remember the first public act of Pentecost? The great news about Jesus was being spoken and heard in every language.
And then in 70 A.D. the temple itself was destroyed. Welcome to the new spiritual landscape.
Those events were harbingers of God's incredible plan. A world where He would dwell beyond 31°46′41″N, 35°14′9″E. The days of the temple were over. The promised land had fulfilled its ancient purpose.
Christ had come and changed everything.
Instead of stunning structures built by Solomon, Zerubbabel or Herod, those who follow Christ become the place where God's presence would dwell. Stone temples are no longer needed. Believers like you and me are where the action is.
In regard to how God works in the world today, Jerusalem is another fascinating, ancient city and Israel is another flag at the United Nations.
Many Christians still venerate Israel, even though Pentecost forever ended geo-spirituality. Is that a problem? It is a significant problem when many Americans believe that Israel continues to fulfill some divine, Biblical endorsement.
And this theologically obsolete understanding of Israel has kept many American Christians from feeling compassion for the suffering of Palestinians who have nothing to do with Hamas.
The Psalmist writes "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." When your family gathers around your Thanksgiving feast I hope you will pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And Tel Aviv. And Jabalia. And Beit Hanoun. And Gaza.
There are grandmothers, children and hospital patients suffering and dying-- people who are not terrorists. And some of them worship Jesus.