08/03/2014 08:29 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2014

Taking Sides in Israel and Gaza

I have visited and ministered in Israel and Gaza so I have a deep empathy and compassion for both sides.

As I started to write this I realized that in using the very idea of "sides" I was falling into a trap. Isn't it true, from our earliest years we feel obliged to choose a side: what group to join at school, which football team to support, what political party to vote for. We human beings find choosing "a side" very tempting. Not only does choosing a side give us a sense of belonging, it actually makes a lot of things easier; we just follow what our side is doing. We don't need to worry ourselves with difficult decisions about what is right and wrong; just go with the flow.
There are however, enormous problems with taking sides.

In viewing the dreadful events that are occurring in and around the Gaza Strip, there is a real danger that we simply decide that we are supporting either "the Arabs" or "the Israelis." (There is a problem even here incidentally, because 20 percent of the Israeli population is Arab). We need to remember that there is no favoritism with God; He at least, does not take sides. He holds all people to account. The extent to which the current state of Israel is a prophetic fulfillment is open to debate. But prophecy - like history - is merely an account of events and says nothing about morality. To be a part of prophecy gives no one a blank cheque to do whatever they feel like. Indeed some of the strongest words of judgement in the Bible are found in those books of the Old Testament where the prophets address Israel.

So in the present situation God sees, and will judge, the politicians, generals and soldiers who ruthlessly and recklessly exceed the moral limits - and those limits exist - of legitimate self-defense. And God also sees, and will judge, those who stir up hatred, fire rockets indiscriminately, and who cynically blur the distinction between what is civilian and what is military. God will, no doubt, also judge those on both sides who - in the face of all the evidence of recent history - encourage more slaughter with stirring words that this struggle will make the region a safer, fairer and a more just place.

Yet we must also remember that God will also judge those of us outside the region. There has been a terrible inevitability about these events: this is no crisis erupting without warning but an almost inevitable eruption of despair and anger from what has been in political and social terms one of the world's festering sores. We have stood idly by, preoccupied by "life's worries, riches and pleasures" (Luke 8:14) and allowed this to happen. May God have mercy on all of us.

We may take sides but God does not. We need to heed Christ's words to be peacemakers. To make peace is not simply to utter soothing words, it is to take action. The best sort of peace-making is not the kind that just ends wars (good though as that is) but the less dramatic pre-emptive kind which stops wars before they even begin. This is what should have been done here, and when the bombing and rocket-launching ends, it will desperately need to be done. If it is not done, the history of the last 70 years tells us that it will only be a matter of time before the conflict erupts again.

We mustn't take sides. This is no sporting match with teams that need cheering on, but an appalling conflict which has already given rise to an enormous amount of human misery and has the potential for generating very much more. We need to speak out without any favoritism.
It is love that will let the past die. Love moves us on without settling the past. Love chooses to tuck the loose ends of past rights and wrongs into the heart of forgiveness and moves us on to new beginnings.