Pro-Jesus Thoughts About the Israel/Palestinian Conflict

November 24, 2015

The word that comes to my mind after encountering the complexities of life in the midst of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is “humbling.” After spending eight days in Israel in 2015 and hearing from people and leaders on all sides of the conflict, I realize that what appears difficult at first glance, possesses multiple layers of complexity below the surface that cable news channels and social media often get wrong.

The conflict is full of people created in the image of God

When I went to Israel, I saw and met people—not merely sides—created in the image of God. To give you some idea of the communities the people in Israel come from, consider that there are:

Within each of these communities there is an amazing amount of variety. Someone who thinks that the only players in the conflict are Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arab Muslims is dangerously wrong.

Simply driving around Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories will show you street signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, which provides a sense of the reality that the situation is marked by complexity upon complexity. Border walls, barbed wire, check points, occupied territories, and soldiers everywhere should remind us that this is a world of which we know little.

Visiting a hospital on the Lebanon border that has a fully functional bunker hospital underground in case of attack and a staff that has to do bunker transition drills is grievous. Listening to a doctor at that hospital talking about operating on Syrian refugees who have been shot and maimed is sobering. Standing at the Israel and Syrian border and hearing bombs from the Syrian civil war is more sobering still. But, we must never forget that all involved are people created in the image of God.

A pro-Jesus approach to the conflict

During my time in Israel, I heard from a man who introduced himself as an Israeli Palestinian Christian. He said, “Imagine the identity crisis of living in an occupied territory as an Israeli who is not a Jew, a Palestinian who is not a Muslim, but a tiny minority evangelical Christian.” We also heard presentations from and had the opportunity to question medical professionals, columnists who cover the conflict, Israeli politicians at the highest levels, the United States Ambassador for religious freedom, Christian college professors and academics, Jewish scholars, Muslims scholars, Jewish rabbis, Christians (Aramaic, Arab, Jewish, and Palestinian), authors, legal experts, ministry leaders, church members, synagogue members, mosque members.

More than being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, Christians must be pro-Jesus as they think about the conflict. Nevertheless, knowing the best way to be pro-Jesus is not easy. There is an inherent danger in describing one’s position regarding the conflict in this way—it is often an excuse for non-engagement. Too often, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, or even pro-Jesus descriptors function merely as shibboleths. Too often this kind of approach is not the fruit of critical thinking and engagement but rather a simplistic way to avoid thinking about the issues. To do so is an insult to those made in God’s image who are living in the region and dealing with the consequences of the decisions that are being made.

We must care about human flourishing throughout the world. And in God’s providence, the Middle East has always been an epicenter that inordinately affects the entire global community. Taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) demands being informed and takes deliberate prayerful effort.

Conflicting narratives and the gospel narrative

I had people tell me that there would already be peace in the conflict if the United States stayed out of it, while others said that there would be peace in the conflict if the United States would get more involved. Separated by language, religion, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, each group has a narrative about the conflict, which often tells a completely opposite story of the story the other groups tell. Tal Becker, who serves as principal deputy legal adviser at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is a senior member of the Israeli peace negotiation team, spoke to our group and said, “How can you get anyone to change? You have to know what story they are telling themselves. You must be able to get into their bloodstream and affect that story and many levels.” He also said, “One of the problems in this region is that everyone has a competing victim/villain narrative, including Israel.” That is certainly true and applicable beyond the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Israel is one of the smallest countries in the region. It is about the size of the state of New Jersey. The present nation-state of Israel has only been in existence since 1948. Nevertheless, the land has ancient sacred meaning in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and it is rich in history and tradition for all three religious faiths. In particular, Jerusalem is a sacred city, with sacred sites that are important for all three of the great monotheistic religions. Each group traces a direct lineage back to Abraham (Gen 17:5). The region of Israel/Palestine matters, it has always mattered, and it will always matter.

The modern Jewish state of Israel lives in constant fear of terrorist attacks form Islamists and military threats from every direction. On May 15 1948, Israel declared its independence and national sovereignty, and the following day they were invaded by a combined Arab attack from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Living in fear of possible attack is a way of life in the modern state of Israel. Palestinians of all faiths feel ignored by the world and even many of their Arab allies, since the founding of the modern state of Israel. Living under military occupation for almost five decades causes many Palestinians to feel a sense of hopelessness and humiliation. Christians are a small minority in Israel, and evangelical Christians are a tiny minority who do not even constitute one-percent of the population. One Palestinian evangelical Christian asked me, “Do you find it strange that Christians in the West are more focused on helping unbelieving Jews than they are helping their Christian brothers and sisters?” It is complicated.

The Bible tells the story of Israel and Israel’s God. The four New Testament gospels present the fulfillment of Israel’s story. The Bible is not Israel-centered any more than it is Gentile-centered. The Bible is Christ-centered, and we must be as well. God is working in the world “to sum up all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10). “The eternal purpose of God” is “realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:11). Any time we sum up Christianity and Christian doctrine in anything other than Jesus Christ we fall into error and misapplication. All doctrines, practice, and events are to be summed up in Christ. Christ is never the sub-point. He is always the main point and gives meaning and purpose to all else. Jesus is the center and goal of redemptive history and the entire cosmos.

The current geopolitical entity of Israel is not coterminous with Israel as referenced in the scripture but that certainly does not mean it is unimportant. Israel has been and continues to be a strategic ally of the United States of America in a volatile and dangerous part of the world. Israel’s presence and military power undoubtedly helps stabilize the region. The Christian though is under no obligation to give the current Israeli government unqualified support and ought to judge the government by its actions in the same way all other governments and actions are judged. Jesus proclaimed messianic salvation and offered to Israel, and then to the Gentiles, himself, as the fulfillment of Israel’s true destiny as a light to the nations. This destiny is accomplished in Christ through those from every tribe, tongue, and nation who receive his message by faith. Nevertheless, all Christians should pray for the great salvific ingathering, in Christ, of ethnic Israelites to which Paul points in Romans 11:26-27.

The focus of the Old Testament was not on Israel in the abstract but on Israel’s role as a light to the nations in the fulfillment of the covenant promises, which was accomplished in Israel through the obedience of one Israelite—Jesus of Nazareth. The resurrected Christ taught his disciples on the road to Emmaus that the whole story of Israel built to its narrative climax in him—the Messiah (Luke 24:13-49). Jesus is the turning point of redemptive history. Psalm 2 concludes, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Ps 2:11-12). Jesus’ disciples are the recipients of the messianic salvation who have kissed the Son and have ultimate allegiance to him and not any nation-state, but in his providence we do live in nation-states, and they do matter.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

The current situation is complex and humbling, but there is one thing every single Christian—Israeli, Palestinian, American, Syrian, Russian, etc.—should do: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (Ps 122:6). The peace of Jerusalem has a name—Jesus (Luke 2:14, 24:36, John 20:19, Acts 10:36, Rev 1:4). There is coming a day when there will be no more conflict in Jerusalem because the Christ who died, was resurrected, and ascended in Jerusalem, will return (Acts 1:11; 2:29-36, Zechariah 14:4) and establish permanent peace within its walls. All Christians should be eagerly awaiting His return and pray for the time when the Prince of Peace will reign in a New Jerusalem, a heavenly city that will far transcend the glory of its earthly counterpart (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22).

Until then, remember as we serve King Jesus among the nations, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9), and we must “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) whether they be Jew, Palestinian, Syrian, American, Iraqi, and so on. Even so, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24