When You Look at A Nation You Should See Human Beings

I want to talk about the fallacy of Islamic citizenship, and its implications for how we treat our fellow humans.

So many of the arguments on behalf of Zionism involve some form of the idea that the Palestinians have plenty of places that they could go, while the Jews only have Israel.

But that is an utter fallacy. That would be like China saying “it’s legitimate for us to take over America, because the American people have so many other places they could go. They could go to Canada. They could go to England. They could go to New Zealand, or Australia, or anywhere else that speaks English or has a generally Christian society. But we want America.”

No, it wouldn’t work that way for Americans, and not for the citizens of Palestine either. They’re not Jordanians. They’re not Saudis. They’re not Egyptians. The fact that there are dozens of Islamic nations has nothing to do with the fact that these are Palestinians, long-standing residents of the territory that Israel captured in the last 70 years, not citizens or residents of other nations. They can’t just move to another nation or region; Palestine is their only home.

Making a case like that demonstrates a profound lack of respect for basic humanity. It says that you’re more interested in someone’s apparent religious identity, than where they have lived and built a home and built a business and built a family for generations. Nobody, at least that I can think of, would dare to make such an argument about someone who is a Christian being welcome in dozens of other nations, so why should we care where they get deported to? But somehow it’s fine because these are Muslims?

Yes, I fully understand the argument that there is only one home nation for the Jews. But that does not give the Jews rights over and against Palestinians automatically, simply because there are other Muslim nations in the world. It certainly does complicate the problem, but it doesn’t expunge any rights that the Palestinians have.

As I said in my recent post about Palestine, I don’t have any answers for the right way to address this problem – it’s far bigger than any one person’s opinion, and there’s no way I know enough to seriously contribute to a solution. But I think I do have this to contribute: if we’re going to discuss it, I think we absolutely have to start, unhindered by dogma or preconceptions, from BOTH a set of solid facts AND basic human compassion, and remembering each of the individual people involved.

I used to think about the Israel/Palestine problem from the perspective of nations and groups, not individuals. The whole issue was about which nation had rights over the other nation. Which people group had the better claim to the land. Which nation’s god or religion was victorious over the other nation’s god or religion.

The thing that gets lost in such a perspective is the people, the individuals. When you displace a people, you displace millions of living, breathing, loving, hoping, fearing, interrelated individuals: fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives – all each and every one of them unique, created by God in God’s own image, with rights and lives given to them by God, uniquely loved by God.

As soon as I begin to treat individuals as a massive group, it’s far too easy to forget about the persons involved. I can just apply justice or a consequence or strip away rights from a group and feel nearly nothing, because in my mind I’m no longer thinking about people, I’m thinking about a nation. I’m dehumanizing the people involved by only thinking about the group. So it demolishes any compassion I might otherwise have towards the people, the individuals.

If we as Americans truly believe that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” then we believe that for each and every Palestinian and Jew just as much as we believe it about ourselves. If we truly believe that, we will act accordingly.

These days, I find that anti-individual focus particularly hard to understand, when this dehumanizing, de-peopling comes largely from the Christian subgroup that insists, above all else, that our individual salvation matters more than anything, that it’s a personal relationship with God, not how the group lives or thinks or believes, that matters to eternity.

But it seems to me that you either believe that entirely, or you don’t believe it at all. You can’t pick individualism for assessing a relationship with God, then throw it away when it’s convenient to dehumanize a people group. Yet I see that, over and over, with conservatives and evangelicals. They say – I said for years, and I’ve been told many times in the last couple years – don’t get too bent with compassion over racism, or homelessness, or anything like that – your compassion will lead you astray, make you care too much, and harm the overall good of the nation or the group. Stay focused on the big picture, they say. But when it comes to salvation? It’s not about a nation or a people, it’s only about the individual.

Here’s the thing: much of the salvation language in the Bible is oriented towards groups, families, entire nations. And at the same time, Jesus’ ministry was to people, and he steadfastly rejected calls to become a political messiah, to make it about the Jewish nation.

So from my vantage point, the conservative approach is entirely backwards: instead of focusing on individual salvation, but national justice, we ought to be paying attention to people and their individual hurts and needs and oppression – and yet focusing on bringing entire nations, not just individuals, into the Kingdom.

Maybe this is a distinction without difference in many people’s minds. But I can’t help but see how we’ve failed to remember that the Palestinians – just like each Jew and in fact every human – are each individuals, and how we treat that nation, that people group, ought to be decided based on how we treat each person. When you start talking about anything that dehumanizes them – calling for them to be exterminated to save Israel, for example – you’ve lost the very heart of God for each and every human. God formed each of them, Christian and Jew and Muslim alike. If you throw that away for a national goal, you throw away any moral high ground, because you’ve lost the heart and teaching of Jesus – who in Matt 25:31-46 very pointedly made salvation of the individual about how they treated other individuals, even the seemingly least valuable.

Let’s read a bit of Matthew together:

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom, which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Read it again, even if you think you know it. And don’t miss this in verse 40: “to the extent that you did it to ONE of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them.” Jesus personally identifies with each and every one of them, even the least, and if we believe His words, He will take it very personally. Not a word about how we treat nations – it’s about how we treat the individual.

So we seriously need to stop saying “this entire people group can just uproot themselves to another nation.” It’s cruel, it’s heartless, it doesn’t have any bit of Jesus’ love, and I cannot believe for a second that Jesus will look at us someday and say “I’m so proud that you uprooted several million Muslim individuals from their ancestral homes and their families, just to reclaim and purify the land for the Jews.” No. Anyone who believes that has lost the thread of God’s love, doesn’t understand the thrust of the entire Bible, and I cannot be a part of such rhetoric.

I believe that a major part of the problem is the belief among Zionist Christians, which I now see as deeply mistaken, that such uprooting and cleansing the physical land of Israel is somehow necessary to usher in the End Times, setting the stage for a physical rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, so that the Tribulation can begin, Jesus can return, and only then will the end come, the New Jerusalem be ushered onto the earth, and then all those glorious promises take place.

I no longer believe such things. If nothing else, the idea that the new city of Jerusalem, which Revelation describes as a 1,500 mile cube, with just twelve small gates, could be even remotely literally possible. It sounds silly if we try to think of it as a vision of something physical. Instead, can we not recognize that as a spiritual vision of the very thing that we are supposed to be building right here and now on the earth: a holy city of every tribe, tongue, nation, people, living as one, in unity and harmony, a brilliantly powerful and hopeful light to the nations?

So I’ve lost any heart for a solution that requires ethnic cleansing of any land. I instead cling to a vision of showing God’s love for even our supposed enemy, a love so vigorous, so rich, so bright, that “many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go out from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isa 2:3) Jesus finished the necessary work on the cross, all of it, and gave us the responsibility of carrying that forward, sending us to every corner of the world. But I don’t believe it was to physically conquer – it was to win them with love, not violence.

And that work, rather pointedly, starts in Jerusalem. No matter how one might feel about Revelation being prophetic versus symbolic, it’s pretty clear that even still in today’s world, Jerusalem continues to be the flashpoint of humanity, and if there is to be a worldwide peace and a reign of God’s love appearing on the planet, Jerusalem is the place we ought to expect it to “come down out of heaven from God.”

Like it or not, it’s going to have to start with us loving those we’re accustomed to seeing as enemies – even, or especially, if they see us and treat us as enemies. And it certainly doesn’t start with uprooting millions of individual human beings, cutting off their water, bombing their hospitals and schools and mosques, leveling their buildings, deporting them… no, it starts with finding an irrational love so deep that it’s irresistible, that strips away any desire to harm one another again, a Godly love, that is humble to the point of death and self-sacrifice, not lording it over the other, but beating swords into plowshares.

No, it’s not going to seem possible. It cannot. It will take something supernatural to achieve – but I have faith that such things can happen – if we truly believe what Jesus was trying to do, and determine to fully adopt His ways in that pursuit. If you want to show the world that the Christian God is superior, then doing what Jesus did will be the only way.

In other words, if we hope to achieve what Revelation was prophesying, we have to abandon the swords and the bombs and the rifles, and start with fully implementing the Sermon on the Mount.

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