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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Christians and Israel: Three thoughts for Christians to consider

It is not very often that I delve into religious issues on this website. I believe that Liberty is a value and a principle which transcends sectarian divisions and can even unite in civil society, that philosophical chasm between theists and atheists. So only because many political figures and pundits here in America are injecting their sectarian religious beliefs into the political dialogue and attempting thereby to steer U.S. foreign policy am I sharing the following thoughts with you today.

I am not trying to force my religious beliefs on anyone, however, I am willing to meet evangelical Christian Zionists on their own terms and discuss the matter of Israel within the framework of their own theology and profession of faith in the Holy Bible. Here are three thoughts for Christians who support U.S. entanglement with Israel's affairs on the basis of Scripture to consider:

1. The Church, not Israel, is God's Chosen People. Promises made to "Israel" in the Bible are for Christians, those who acknowledge Israel's rightful King, descended from the House of David, Jesus Christ.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) recently said that America will be "cursed" by God if it does not "stand with Israel," arguing that the Bible says nations will be blessed as they bless Israel, but the Bible also says that those who rejected Christ are not true Israel, and that those who accept him, are the true remnant of Israel and heirs to God's promises, including even Gentiles who are "grafted in" (as St. Paul says) to the House of David and the family of Israel through adoption by Christ, Israel's rightful King and heir to the Davidic throne.

Any Christian who professes belief in the Bible ostensibly believes the words of John the Baptist who said:

"And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham." (Matthew 3:9)

So according to the New Testament, being a blood descendant of Abraham counts for nothing in God's eyes. St. Paul echoes these words and elaborates on them:

"For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." (Rom 2:28-29)

So what makes a person a true descendant of Abraham according to the New Testament, which all Christians ostensibly profess as true? What makes a person an heir to God's promises? Christ says that those who would reject him lose their place in the promises God makes to Israel, and that those who accept him are the heirs to God's kingdom and favor:

"Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits." (Matt 21:43)

St. Paul affirms this, writing:

"And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise." (Gal 3:29)

St. Paul states further, that those who walk according to the new creation wrought by the cross of Christ are the Israel of God.

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." (Gal 6:14-16)

In her remarks, Michele Bachmann quoted from the Old Testament, and though she professed her Christianity, she did not acknowledge the New Testament verses quoted above, which all Christians ostensibly believe are true. God's Chosen People according to the Biblical, Christian view of the world are not the Jews which rejected Jesus Christ, but those Jews and Gentiles who follow Christ. On the basis of her own professed beliefs, Michele Bachmann has made an error

2. Even if Biblical promises made to Israel are not the exclusive birthright of Christians, but of the Israeli people, they should not be conflated with the modern, secular state called Israel.

Even if you interpret the Biblical verses listed above (and many, many others) differently, and insist that all blood descendants of Abraham are God's chosen people, there is still a difference between the descendants of Abraham who are heirs to God's promise (according to a view that as I have argued above, contradicts Christian scripture and theology), and the modern, secular nation state called Israel, which was established in 1948. The two are clearly not one and the same.

In fact, many of Judaism's most devout and conservative voices were opposed to the Zionist project of colonizing Palestine from the very beginning. They regarded Zionism as a radical, secular philosophy that would be unpleasing to God. In the Old Testament book of Samuel, the people of Israel sinned by asking God for a King "like all the nations" around them, that he could make war like the surrounding nations and give Israel a visible earthly symbol of temporal might and unity. They thought they needed a nation state to be a people, and God saw this as a rejection. In the end, the Jewish people existed before the modern state was formed in the Middle East in 1948, and they still exist in nations all over the world today. The secular state of Israel simply cannot mean the same thing as God's chosen people, Israel.

Finally, America certainly has "stood by Israel" as Bachmann claims it should, insofar as it has welcomed and tolerated Abraham's descendants who have come to live here, and opened its borders to the immigration of Israelis from anywhere in the world that they face religious and ethnic persecution. It has treated them fairly and justly, certainly better than the Jewish diaspora has ever been treated by the Christian nations of Europe. It's hard to believe that America would come under a "curse" for not acceding to the secular state of Israel on every border dispute it has with its neighbors, especially when not all Jews are even in agreement that this state should exist or that its existence pleases God.

3. It is not for temporal authorities to systematically carry out God's promises. He's capable of keeping them Himself, and Biblically, He often used corrupt and evil nations to carry out His plan.

Those Christians who support the use of military power and worldly diplomacy to fight battles over physical borders would do well to remember those parts of the Old Testament in which God punished Israel for making military alliances with neighboring nations like Egypt to protect itself from its enemies. Those kings who made military alliances with foreign nations were regarded in the Old Testament as bad kings, and those who trusted in God to provide for Israel were lauded as good kings. When David numbered the people of Israel to measure its earthly might, he brought a curse on Israel.

Is Michele Bachmann not calling a curse down upon Israel, by urging the continuation of a temporal strategic military alliance that relies on guns, and numbers, and foreign troops, instead of on Divine Providence? Is she not advising America to act as the Egypt of old and to incite God's wrath against the Israeli people by forging worldly alliances to defend their nation state's borders? Does it really fall to America to carry out God's will, or can God handle that Himself?

In the Bible, God used the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and many other surrounding nations to accomplish His will and plan. These were wicked and ungodly nations, according to the Old Testament, acting not as God's servant, but as a tool in His hand. Would Bachmann have America play such a role in world history? Or rather than seeking to actively enforce God's plans and promises and alleged borders by military force, should we not accomplish God's will by being a shining beacon of liberty, tolerance, peace, generosity, and humility?