In so many of the world’s hot spots, there are clear villains and victims. Think Syria. Think Iraq. Think Russia/Ukraine. Think North Korea. Turn on the news, and such stories are without limit. However, when we read of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, whatever one’s political leaning, the issue is a bit more cloudy.
Each side in that conflict appears to be convinced that God has given that sacred land to them. They have been so convinced for centuries, since the very earliest days of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture). Israel claims the right to exist where they now live without fear or attack. Who could argue with that? Palestinians claim the exact same right for themselves. Again, who could argue? But, as we observe the continuing tension (and violence), we are reminded of the old cliché: “Your rights end where my nose begins.”
When we are convinced that God is for us and against others, it justifies almost anything we choose to do to or against those others. After all, if God is for us – and they are our enemies – then, logically, they must be God’s enemies as well. And that is the mindset we see on both sides of the current conflict. Throughout history those people have claimed, “God gave US this land. It is ours, and you exist here simply as our guest.” If two constituencies make that claim over the same piece of ground, then inevitably we witness a Hatfield-McCoy scenario, simply on a far broader and more menacing scale.
What if both sides have missed the point? What if, in fact, it is God’s land, not any particular human group’s land? What if Israelis and Palestinians alike reside there simply as God’s guests? What if? Were you or I to operate a hotel, we would have rules about how our guests are required to behave in our lodging. If that is God’s land, then perhaps there are rules. The people in conflict represent three of the world’s great faith systems (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Since all are descendants of Abraham, presumably they all are governed by the same spiritual rules and principles... things like loving one’s neighbor, becoming peacemakers, forgiving as one wishes to be forgiven, and doing unto others what one would have done were the tables turned. Those are the “house rules” for any who stay in God’s dwelling.
The point of all this is simply to say that while political theorists try to hammer out treaties for a ceasefire and put in place documents dictating how those people might co-exist peaceably, the rules for a lasting peace are already in place. And the leaders on each side claim to understand and believe those rules, those spiritual laws. All three faiths profess to believe that God’s will must be obeyed in human affairs. If that is the case, then peace is simply a matter of practicing what they profess – of behaving in ways consistent with what they believe. And, it’s not just a “those folks over there” issue. It’s us, too. Here. Now. In our nation, in our city, in our workplaces, in our homes, in our relationships. We have a divinely granted Guidebook that clearly articulates how we can live peaceably in relationship with other people. That Book talks about forgiveness and mercy, grace and compassion, praying for one’s enemies and speaking the truth (even hard truth) in love, extending charity and kindness to the least of these, and asking for God’s guidance before making personal decisions. We claim to believe. But sometimes we fail to behave in ways consistent with that.
In all conflicts, global or personal, the source of resolution is at hand. It always has been. They key is simply to pray what Jesus prayed that night in the garden: “Not my will but Thine be done.” Put another way, when nations or individuals ask, “What is the godly way to treat others?,” then peace is inevitably the result. And so we keep praying that sooner or later all of us will live into and live up to the Faith we profess.