Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

What to Make of This War

Whenever there is major conflict in the Middle East, especially clashes involving Jews and Arabs, I set out to read people who have studied the region and give perceptive analyses, be they in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, The National Review, or The Atlantic. I appreciate journalists like Thomas Friedman (e.g. “What is Happening to Our World?”, 12/29, NY Times); Robin Wright (“Israel May Decimate Hamas, But Can it Win This War?” 10/9, New Yorker); and David Brooks (“Searching for Humanity in the Middle East,” 10/26, NY Times). There are many others, but these stand out.

I also go back to my numerous travels and teaching in the Mideast, including Lebanon, Syria, and Israel—and reflect on the lessons I have learned. I have a passion for these cultures and a deep interest in their future. This past year alone, I spent time training leaders in Beirut and the Bekka, teaching a class near Tel Aviv, speaking to students in Jerusalem, as well as preaching in Amman and Cairo. I share this, only to say that whatever suffering is incurred in this region deeply affects me. I can’t help but see past these events to the faces of the people I have met.

It’s easy to get caught up in geopolitics and the growing concerns–will the war become broader and more threatening to world stability? Who will govern when the conflict ends?  How long will there be peace before another war breaks out? But I am also asking—what is God up to? Where is the future headed? Are we closer to the end?

It’s not that I have come down with a fresh case of apocalyptic fever. I had enough of this in the 70’s with pop dispensationalists. Every time missiles launched in the Mideast, they would make their predictions and write their books (and many of us would buy them). But I wonder what to make of this most current crisis. And yes—every day we are closer to the end.

In writing this post, I am not aiming to answer so much as to ask. Answers are of little use unless we are asking the right questions. I believe what follows are some necessary questions, and I am guessing these may be yours—

First, what explains the kind of horrific violence that was unleashed on October 7th? Reading pieces like Peggy Noonan’s “The Rape of the Israeli Women,” I find myself thinking—these savage acts seem more sinister, even beyond bestial. Are they not pointing to spiritual forces of darkness, demonic powers aimed at creating the most unimaginable terror? What is this telling us about the present spiritual war we are in?

Another question I find myself asking is this—why is it the Jewish people have a history of incurring the wrath of the world, be it in Europe, the Middle East, or recently on university campuses? What makes Israel a fixed target? Why does antisemitism continue to break out? Is it racial bias? Jealousy over Jewish success? Resentment because of what they possess. Or could it be deeper?

Does much of the current hatred directed at Jews have something to do with a people who have been chosen by God to play a special role in history? A people who have been referred to as “the apple of the eye of the Lord” (Deut 32:10)? In other words, could it be that so much of the ongoing global antipathy towards all things Jewish is ultimately directed, even unconsciously, at God’s incomparable grace?

What is it about the land itself? Is this nothing more than a territorial dispute going back hundreds of years? Or is it more? Does much of what is happening go back to covenantal promises that are in play? Is modern Israel little more than a particular people group seeking refuge in a piece of geography that has been stripped away from others, or are they the chosen seed in the process of inheriting the land, experiencing the full realization of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants?

Another growing question I have, especially given I am an American, is whether we should be siding or not siding with Israel. One of my former pastors, once a national voice, told his congregation that God will bless America if America supports Israel. I am sure this has been said in many evangelical pulpits, especially by those who hold to a dispensational premillennialism. But is this true? Is there something special about Israel that other nations are wise to discern and protect?

One can argue there is something unique about the Jews in the history of humanity. Amazingly, a people who have been dispersed from time to time over the centuries have never lost their national identity. How does one explain this? Scripture itself speaks of a day when the great mass of Israel will be restored to fullness because of God’s mercy (Romans 11). Is this what we are beginning to see?

I recently finished a book by a Jewish Rabbi by the name of Meir Soloveichik (Providence and Power: Ten Portraits in Jewish Statesmanship). I wanted to get more into the Jewish mind. He begins with two biblical leaders, David and Esther, and builds a case that the endurance and success of the Jewish people can only be explained as “the work of divine providence.” I would add—divine grace.

Chapter by chapter, one reads stories of endurance and miraculous interventions. In looking back at events, at wars like the June Six-Day War, he notes that the Jewish people seem to be “caught up in things great and inexplicable.” The charge, therefore, he gives to Jewish statesmen is to move things forward, ever aware that “there is something, Someone, Who is the true conductor.” I read the Scriptures, watch events unfold, view films like Golda, and find myself thinking–God does seem to have his hand on these people. Despite the scathing Old Testament words of judgment, God never stops reaching out.

Finally, I can’t help but ask—what about the Palestinians? What about their land and their dreams? Many feel abandoned by the world and the church. In today’s Washington Post, there is this article, “Arabs Are Forced to Question Their Place in the World.” What about the injustices suffered by those who are not Jewish? Where do they fit in this eschatological drama? There is no question that terrorist groups must be removed, but what about those in Gaza and the West Bank who are Christ followers? Who speaks for them? Will the church? What are my obligations as a fellow Christian to them and the broader Arab world? Ought they to go deep as well?

Getting closer to the questions that matter gives us a path to begin sorting out the answers.

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