Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fine Line: Faith in God~One in Christ

My Way vs God's Way
Recently I have been having a healthy discussion with a friend of mine about the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. No small potatoes to slice on that subject! What I have realized through the conversation is that, at times, I have felt as if I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth. I’m hungry now because I just mentioned potatoes (which I like perhaps too much) and my mouth which I like to fill with potatoes if given the opportunity.

Why do I feel like I’m (almost) saying two opposing things at once? Here’s a basic breakdown of my problem…I also suggest that it’s your problem too...

It is logical, for me, to assume that any nation, when attacked, would choose to defend herself. Similar to a bully on the playground...the person bullied would be within their rights to “fight back” or, at very least, exercise their right to be “bully free” in whatever manner might be best. But what is “best” depends entirely upon the “force” presented by the bully, right? Consider it, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the kid being bullied to pull out a shotgun if the bully comes at him with mean words, right? Now if the bully came at the person with a tire-iron and took a swing and said, “I’m going to kill you!” then pulling out a shotgun might seem a bit more appropriate. (God forbid a child arrive on the playground with either a tire-iron or a shotgun...this is merely for illustrative purposes) What I’m getting at with this first consideration is that our Catholic faith allows for a certain degree of self-protection...whether we’re talking about individuals or nations. We have a God-given right to avoid harm and to avoid being injured, killed, etc. This is part of the notion of, “Sanctity of Life” as we consider life to be sacred and fundamentally, a gift from God, therefore we have a basic right (even a duty) to protect this gift. We can even take it so far as to say, “We are not our own possession.”

Now for the “fine line of faith…”

There could be a time in our lives when we would choose to, “turn the other cheek” as Jesus Christ encouraged us to do. But this is NOT a call for every believer to become a door-mat. So back to the bully above. It is good in many cases to allow people to mistreat us as Christians but this has to be in a case by case basis. How, you may ask, would one determine what is “right” in a given circumstance, after all Jesus Christ offered Himself up to death on a cross! My suggestion: prayer. Daily prayer. If you are a Christian who does not have a regular prayer time every day you are like a boxer entering the ring who is not adequately trained. You will be able to get in a couple punches but you will not have the stamina, technique, strategy or the physique to encounter the many “punches” the world, the flesh and the evil one would throw at you. Prayer is the most basic NEED for every believer because it is what connects us more completely with the ONE who knows what would be “best” versus what we might consider “best” in any given circumstance. This is why on some occasions Jesus Christ would respond with warmth to certain people in certain situations and why He would, at times, upbraid people in other situations. He KNEW the will of the Father. So those folks who want to have the “easy answer” to all of life’s questions are seriously out of luck. The bottom line here is that we need to walk the fine line and knowing this, call it, “narrow way” requires an attentiveness to Our Lord on a regular basis. We NEED to hear His voice and not simply on occasion. So in regard to the question, “when is it right for me to defend myself?” versus, “when should I (or my nation) turn the other cheek?” There is not any one answer...there might be multiple answers...which is precisely why a believer might begin to sound like they’re waffling when others seem so clear in their convictions. A Christian’s conviction is that they may not personally know what is may take some time for them (perhaps longer than the average person) to come to a plan of action when action is required. This is not always a lack of concern or a lack of understanding (I have been accused of both) but it may just be they understand things more clearly...which, generally speaking, people who see the bigger picture may have more, “dots to connect” than someone who hears one side and has a less informed understanding of things.

To connect some dots here and now...Israel, many believe, has a right to defend herself against aggression (both within and without) her borders. Can I argue with this? After all, if Canada began launching missiles into Minnesota we might respond in a way that would be surprisingly, “cruel and violent” to some. Some people castigate Israel for exercising her right to defend herself. But perhaps there is another “fine line” at play here in these circumstances? What Israel has been doing in Gaza, to the casual observer, may seem inhumane and an exaggerated response. It is almost represented like Hamas (which is the real aggressor in this circumstance and NOT the “people of Gaza” in general) is coming at Israel holding twigs and berries and Israel is responding with tanks and F-18’s. This is not the case. Back to the bully scenario...Hamas has been launching rockets that can kill people...launching them into Israel. Israel took the approach, “enough is enough.” This is NOT a new situation for Israel to be bombarded by their neighbors and as the bully approaches and lands a couple Israel has a right to respond. But the fine line much is too much? I will not pretend to know what Israel, “must do” as a nation in this circumstance but I can say that from all appearances it looks as if they have gone above and beyond what one might consider a “reasonable action.” Hamas, however, continues to send missiles into Israel...the “bully” continues to mess with the same kid on the same playground. The bully has not chosen to relent.

But what can one say when looking at this through the eyes of faith? Some Christians, I believe, are blind when it comes to their support of Israel. They try and associate the current State of Israel with the biblical Israel and this connection is tenuous at best. This is NOT to say that Israel (the state of) may not play a role in biblical prophecy and/or world events of an apocalyptic nature...I can’t claim a great deal of clarity on this matter and I believe that those who DO claim to have this, “all figured out” are simply naive and carry on an overly simplistic view of Sacred Scripture. Again, I have to say (as Scripture does say) that though the end is closer now than it was we do not know “either the day nor the hour” when Christ may return. I also have a storehouse of examples in history in mind where people were convinced they had reached the, “end of the age” when in reality we keep right on trucking. For those who adhere to the Christian faith...I suggest the following...stop making connections and predictions about these matter and live your faith! Stop making the state of Israel such a high priority in what it means for you to “follow the Lord!” Be concerned more about the teachings of Jesus the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Ch. those things FIRST and then, after much prayer and deliberation (if you need to) speak your opinion. I am not advocating for door-mat Christianity and I’m certainly not able to say, as many do, “I support Israel no matter what because Israel is ‘God’s chosen people!” This, in my mind, is not in line with biblical revelation.

Another important matter of faith is the fact that Jesus Christ came to establish a, “New Israel.” What is this New Israel? It is the Church. Jesus Christ did not come to set up (and certainly didn’t choose to preserve) ancient Israel from outside invasion. Could God have chosen to do so? Yes! Of course. He didn’t do this however and this should be instructive to any believer. What did Jesus Christ choose to do in regard to Israel? He chose to give His life so that Israel (the ancient and contemporary Jewish people) and Gentiles (people who are outside of the people of Israel) would be ONE PEOPLE within the Church. Many of Jesus Christ’s initial “enemies” (Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans etc) became His most ARDENT followers! Those who were once His greatest “enemies” became the ones, after the Resurrection and birth of the Church at Pentecost, who followed Him even to the point of their own martyrdom! What should this tell you dear believer? This should instruct any person of faith in Jesus Christ that our enemies are no longer “flesh and blood” and we are not, as a general rule, meant to support a militarized notion of faith. We can see the state of Israel as our ally and I won’t argue against that point. We, as a nation, need allies who are of like mind to stem the growing tide of global Islamic fundamentalism. To support Israel in this manner isn’t wrong and in fact is likely very necessary for stability and eventual peace in the region. This, in my opinion, could only be brought about through the peaceful, “heart to heart” conversion of the Muslims (as well as the Jewish people) to Christianity...but this is another point for another day.

Lastly, I have to stand against the mentality that thinks thusly: “I need to support Israel because Israelis are the, “chosen people of God” and therefore I would be going again God Himself if I were to speak against the state of Israel.” Though I fully understand this is a weak connection to make. St. Peter (who we Catholics consider the first Pope) wrote the following from 1 Peter Chapter 2:

“1 So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; 3 for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 4 Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; 5 and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall"; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. “

So what does this mean except that those who believe were “no people” but we are NOW God’s people. Israel rejected Jesus Christ and it will be their salvation to become, once again, part of the New Israel...the Church. We have ALL been called out of darkness but to leave this darkness we need to adhere to the Lord Himself Who truly is...the ONE in whom all people, Jew, Gentile, Man, Woman, Young, Old, Rich, Poor etc will find salvation. Salvation, remember, is the goal of this life and this is only to be found in Our Lord Jesus Christ...not in support of one regime or another.

This is a fine line isn’t it? Our Lord spoke of following the “narrow way” that leads to salvation. Consider your own life in relation to Scripture and in light of world events and ask the Lord, daily, “Lord, help me to follow you wherever you may go.” Walk the fine line and by His mercy, “ you have received mercy,” you will not fall to the left or to the right but you will remain in His love and peace forever...regardless of what the world may do.  We must not deny that we are to love all people...but we must also make it our priority to seek the Lord and His Kingdom above all else~ this is the way we must go.