It’s not often that New Zealand gets international political attention, but we certainly did so this week when our government co-sponsored a UN resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements.
As expected, my Facebook feed has been lighting up like a busy switchboard as Christians I know react with outrage. That’s because many Christians today see the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. For them, criticism of Israel is like ice cream on a sensitive tooth.
I’m aware that this is a highly controversial topic, but I’ve never bought into that line of thinking myself. I’m also aware that people who hold the above view (let’s call them Christian Zionists) are often unwilling to consider other interpretive options. So, I’m not writing this blog post to convince them. Instead, I want to offer some thoughts for the people who’ve seen or heard Christian Zionism, and felt a bit confused, or uneasy, or overwhelmed.
Here’s some good news: you don’t have to land there. And, here’s some mixed news: there probably aren’t any easy answers. The truth is, this subject, more than most, calls for nuance. So, let me try to offer some…
You can be a Christian and not be a Christian Zionist.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was no other option here. From the Left Behind series, to the opinions of American Republicans, to the teaching of people like Chuck Missler, Christian Zionism is a very loud voice at a popular level in the Church. But, it’s not been the historical view of the Church. In fact, it’s rise has been more recent (think, the last 150 years). Christian Zionism is a view which requires God to have two plans, one for Israel and another for the rest of us. But many Christians would see that as limiting and lessening the scope of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Many Christians see the promises of God in the Old Testament as answered in Jesus… as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” At the same time, the fact that this subject does not appear in historical Christian creeds should give us cause for humility; this is not an issue to divide over.
You can “stand with Israel” without giving Israel a blank cheque.
The Jewish people have suffered immensely throughout their history, and especially before and during World War 2. Personally, I think the establishment of the modern state of Israel following that war was a good and understandable thing. That doesn’t lessen the complexity, of course. One of the issues I have with some Christian Zionists is that they paint the modern context of Israel as good vs. evil. But that’s not the way the world works (biblically speaking). We all have good and evil in our hearts. So, I think we can empathise with the plight of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. We can critique Palestinian terrorism as well as the heavy-handedness of Israel’s response. There are people suffering on both sides of the divide. We don’t get to check our compassion at the door on this one.
You can recognise bias without becoming biased yourself.
Christian Zionists often accuse the media (especially here in New Zealand) of bias against Israel. I think they have a point. I do notice a negative slant towards Israel on our news; one that doesn’t seem to me to paint the full complexity of the situation. However, the solution is not to unquestioningly support Israel. The solution is to seek to understand the complexity of the situation, and to bring a biblical worldview to bear on it.
You can value the story of Israel without becoming a Jew.
In recent years, through the work of scholars such as Tom Wright, there has been an increase in the appreciation of Jesus’ Jewishness. Scholars have explored the first century Jewish context Jesus was born into, and how that shaped him. They’ve highlighted how important the story of Israel is within the story of God’s salvation being worked out in the world. Something which frustrates me is the idea that if you’re not a Christian Zionist, you don’t value this story, or that you aren’t concerned with things like Antisemitism. So let me say it clearly: we can and should value the story of God and Israel. We should see ourselves as “grafted in”. And, we should hold on to the hope (as Paul does in his letter to the Romans) that a large part of ethnic Israel may one day see Jesus as the Messiah.
…Between the aftermath of World War 2, the Six-Day War, and modern ethnic divides, the situation in the modern state of Israel is very, very complicated. Perhaps we need to have the humility to acknowledge that very few of us (internet talking heads included) are experts.
When it comes to our stance on these things as Christians, here’s what I think: we need to spend far more words in prayer than words on the internet. We should pray for peace in Israel, peace in Palestine, peace in the Middle-East, and peace in the world. We should pray that people on every side of every divide would acknowledge and adore the only One capable of making that a reality… the Prince of Peace.