On November 6th, 2023, the Seattle Times published two stories in its local section. The similarity in the headlines would be comical, if not for how tragic they were:
- “Seattle-area Palestinians watch in horror, fear as Gaza siege continues”
- “Seattle-area Jews feel on edge amid sharp rise in antisemitism”
Seattle is 6,780 miles away from the terror and the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine, yet the destruction of Jewish and Palestinian lives—and the broader implications for their respective diasporas—feels very close. There is so much dread; dread of learning that a loved one has been killed; dread of being accosted on a street in a city thousands of miles away for being Jewish, for being Palestinian, for being Muslim.
Sometimes, “What does the Bible say?” sounds like the most cliched question it is possible to ask. In the face of so much death and suffering, where our hope and faith in the promise of the The kingdom (reign) of God is a central theme of Jesus' teaching and parables. According to Jesus this reign of God is a present reality and at the same time is yet to come. When Christians pray the Lord's Prayer, they ask that God's kingdom... More can be so crushingly tested, wondering what the Bible could offer for insight or comfort seems blithely out of touch.
There are verses upon which our faith, and, indeed, our entire identity as Christians hinge:
Isaiah 2:4 (NIV):
“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Romans 12:19-21 (NIV):
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends […] On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Matthew 5:9 (NIV):
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
What are these words when we hear of hostages found dead, or hospitals under military siege? Most of us have looked at our Bibles again and again, wondering where our hope comes from; when, for so many parts of the world, hope seems like a luxury of the privileged. The people in those parts of the world just want the bombs to stop falling; they just want their loved ones to return home safely.
These are just words, the world seems to say, nothing but words.
But perhaps words aren’t a bad thing. These are words, yes, words revealed thousands of years ago to a lost and fearful people. They are words that for generations, for centuries, for millennia, have sustained and encouraged people throughout the worst evils that we have inflicted upon one another. They are God whispering to the broken-hearted of human history, encouraging us to not give up, to not lose hope.
This is not the first time I have read these passages of Scripture—I imagine it’s not your first time, either—and it’s probably not the last time I’ll read them. Now, though, when the news from Israel and Palestine looks bleaker by the day, and I read those words of peace and hope, I’m reminded that they are not only words of Scripture to the people of Israel from millennia ago; they’re not cliches and platitudes to soothe our sensibilities; they are words for the people of Gaza and Jerusalem today, for the people of Ukraine and Sudan today. And they will be for the victims of conflicts tomorrow, in other parts of the world.
Does that mean the words have failed? I think that’s up to us. We can put our Bibles down, convinced that no matter what was written, we will never be able to stop the doomsday clock ticking closer to midnight. Or, perhaps, we can make a choice; to keep reading those words, and to keep believing, despite every sign to the contrary, that there is a Kingdom of Heaven to strive for; not just for our comfort, but for those who live, sleep, and die under the threat of bombs and terrorists.
So when I read these words again, I’m not oblivious to the ever-rising death toll in Israel and Palestine; but I remind myself—and sometimes it takes a lot of work—that these words of hope and of peace don’t have an expiration date. If we read these verses of Scripture again and again, that’s because when the next heartbreaking headline gets published, we must remind ourselves that our trust is in the God who binds every wound, who wipes away every tear, and who gathers all of us into a kingdom of eternal love.