The Stupidity of War: On the Pursuit of Love or Power

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Credit: My friend Matt Stroh, taken while in Iraq

Currently our congressional branch is discussing the merits of a treaty with Iran, one that would aid (with hope) in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms. There are man opposed to the treaty, believing that it gives too much ground to Iran. Their approach is more along the lines of, “Iran should do everything we want and if they don’t, we should bomb them.” Mind you that we’re now facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII from Iran’s neighbors, a crisis brought about directly by US armed conflict in the region. Of course, it is not as though the United States invented war or even perfected it, but rather follows a tragic line, one that dates back before humans.

Is there anything as stupid as violence? As the taking of another’s blood? We’ve overcome living in caves, mastered the seas, left the bonds of our planet, found cures for deadly disease, and extended the human lifespan to greater limits. Yet we’ve never overcome our thirst for blood. We’ve heard the cries of the orphans, seen the tears of the widowed, watched mothers and fathers bury sons and daughters, and still we’ve never satisfied out appetite for destruction. Violence, even when used to prevent further violence, is surely the most disgusting thing we can do to each other.

Yet, we continue. We watch a little child wash ashore in Turkey, a casualty of war. We wish to blame one side or the other – as though one can easily dictate sides in this newest conflict – but stall to find a solution. We watch refugees escape the violence of their homeland only to find violence in a desperate attempt to find peace. While Europe copes with taking in refugees, my greatest fear is that today’s cheering crowds will be tomorrow’s mob. European history is rife with schizophrenic nations taking in oppressed people only to kill them a few years later (Germany is a great offender in this regard, dating back to the Holy Roman Empire and its many Germanic states).

We are constantly at war, unable to live at peace with our neighbor. Almost all wars begin with one person or a group of people desiring power, often at the cost of all others. Even religious wars begin with a narcissistic quest for power, that perhaps one’s god (or gods) might smile upon the bloodshed of another human being and grant more authority to the valiant warrior. One doesn’t need religion to start a war, one merely needs be greedy and selfish, and such traits are not unique to any creed or belief. Today our wars are hardly religious unless one considers the worship of money a religion. But money is used only to gain power, and the pursuit of power reigns supreme in the modern world.

In life you can seek after power or you can seek after love, but the pursuit of one requires the denial of the other. One cannot seek after both love and power because the two are mutually exclusive. To become powerful one must become inward focused, look to one’s own goals before anyone else. This is not to say the powerful cannot love in some way, or have a marriage, or a family, but such things are tertiary to the main goal, which is power. Love, alternatively, requires a self-denial. Almost every major religion teaches that true love is self-denying, that to be in love is to deny the self. That job you want, the influence you desire, the power you wish to yield must sometimes (almost always) diminish in the presence of love because love requires you to live for others.

The problem with humanity and why we continue to dive headfirst into war is too often men seek power rather than love. In the quest for power hatred is justified, tribalism is king, and the deaths of brothers is viewed as “necessary” and “collateral damage.” What a dehumanizing thing that we place both destroyed buildings and destroyed lives within the same category. However, power is weak against love and cannot overcome it. While the quest and thirst for power is older than man, it is still younger than love.

The quest for love will always conquer power and overcome it. If we learn to live with our neighbors, regardless of where they live, then we can curb the violence which results from the thirst for power. It is only in seeking after the good of others that we can finally have peace. Or, to quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, “If more of us valued good food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” Only a life of love can cure us from the sickness of seeking power, and only such a cure can hold our hands from violence.

A Hope for Community

Oh the peaceful life for which I long

And not this life of constant strife

For men to value good drink and song

And look less to money and more to life

Oh that every man minded one’s own

And loved his neighbor rather than hate

That above all else he valued home

And slowed down and learned to wait

To laugh, to cry, to drink with one’s enemies

For around food it is difficult to fight

Rather than bombs a simple diplomacy

For a shared beer turns a wrong to a right

Perhaps I embrace a hazy dream

And yet I hold out hope still

For just because a thing is unseen

Does not mean it is not real


Light Will Dawn in the Land of Darkness: A Call to Pray for Syria

Violence against Christians has grown increasingly fierce in Syria as reports about priests and pastors being kidnapped or killed by extremists and stories of churches, monasteries, and health clinics being ransacked or bombed abound.  Some instances of considerable note include the kidnap (and presumed murder) of two archbishops, the recent murder of a Franciscan friar, and the detonation of a bomb outside of a Greek Orthodox cathedral.  Reports of violence against Christians continue to pour in on a daily basis.

In view of this, I implore you to join me for the next three days (7/01/13-7/3/13) in a time of prayer and fasting.  We shall be praying for the following things:

  1. For the protection and safety of Christian leaders and their families (who have been especially targeted by the attackers) and lay people who continue to live and work in Syria.
  2. For an end to all violence in the region and for justice and peace to prevail.
  3. For the Lord to turn the hearts of the jihadists away from violence and to have mercy upon them.   

I’d like to draw special attention on the third item of prayer.  Many people will think I’ve lost my mind for adding this.  Why on earth should we pray for the evil men perpetrating these heinous crimes against humanity?  Shouldn’t we hope for their destruction?  Why would we care what happens to them?  . . . Because they are made in the image of God and it is God’s desire for them to repent from their evil deeds and to embrace the Way of peace and love.  Only the power of the gospel – the message of God’s love and sacrifice on behalf of His creation – can conquer the darkness which is sweeping over Syria.  Peace and life will be restored when the jihadists are transformed from messengers of hate and death into emissaries of God’s peace and love.  It’s only through our love as Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that the light of Christ will outshine the blackness of mans hatred.

Our Lord set the perfect example for us – both in His teaching and in one of His last recorded acts on the cross.  In His famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught the unthinkable, He taught us to love even those who hate us:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‘  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”  (Matt. 5:43-45).  

He exemplified this teaching as he hung, suffering an excruciating death on the cross, praying for the very people who were murdering Him:  “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23: 34).  

May we long for peace and justice but let our hearts not become hardened and filled with the same hate fueling the jihadists.  Let us join hands with the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives out of love and pray for salvation and life to flow into Syria.  Let the prophecy of Isaiah be fulfilled once again, as it was when Jesus first came, through the blood of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints:

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and the shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).  

Can There Be Peace? Israel and Palestine


One of the most polarizing issues facing the world is that of Israel and Palestine. While one can find groups for a middle ground on a number of other issues, the Israeli-Palestinian issue seems to be cut-and-dry. Either one supports Israel in all its actions or one denounces Israel in all its actions and draws attention to the “plight of the Palestinian people.”

What everyone seemingly ignores is that both sides have legitimate claims on the land and subsequently both sides are engaging in genocidal acts and killing innocent civilians to validate their claims. One side calls on the Palestinians to stop their violent acts (and they should), but they don’t voice for the Israelis to stop oppressing the Palestinian people. Even if the Palestinian people stopped supporting violent acts against Israel, they would still be disenfranchised and forced to live in abject poverty.

Likewise, the other side calls on Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinians (and they should), but they don’t voice for the Palestinians to stop launching rockets into population centers or to stop targeting Israeli civilians. Many people on the “pro-Palestinian” side seemingly ignore or even partake in anti-Jew (it’s hard to say anti-Semitic since this would include Palestinians) propaganda. A simple perusal through the multiple Facebook groups and posts finds that the hatred extends beyond the so-called “Israeli Occupation,” but well into simply hating Jews.

It seems that those who support Israel believe the Palestinians should just up and leave, or die. It seems that those who support the Palestinians believe the Jews should just up and leave, or die. We have people who claim that the Palestinians are not really a people because they lack a culture and a language (can I use this same argument on the term “Americans”?), but turn around and you have people denying the Holocaust and saying that Jews don’t deserve to have rights. In the midst of it all, we have Christians denouncing Israel’s actions and taking up their old role of anti-Semitism, saying that the Jews persecute Christians and killed Christ, so why support Israel? Then we have Christians denouncing the Palestinians, declaring all actions of Israel justified as a way of self-preservation. In all of this blind rush to support one side or the other it seems that no one is really seeking actual peace.

What should the Christian position on this issue be? Regardless of how one feels about the Jews having their own nation (and rest-assured, for practical reasons they deserve their own nation; every other nation has persecuted them, so they need a safe-haven), the fact remains that they currently have one and it is currently located in Israel. We don’t need to turn to Biblical prophecy or anything like that to realize that Israel deserves to exist; Biblical prophecy has nothing to do with my beliefs on this (as I really don’t believe the current state of Israel to be a thing of prophecy). Rather, I think the Jews deserve to have their own land and it only makes sense for it to be in Israel, which already had a huge Jewish population in 1948.

Likewise, regardless of how one feels about the Palestinians having their own state (and rest-assured, for practical reasons they deserve their own nation; they’ve been massacred in all other nations they’ve gone to, so they need a safe-haven), the fact remains that they are people without a land and currently live in Israel. We don’t need to turn to Biblical prophecy or anything like that to denounce the existence of the Palestinians. They are people made in the image of God and therefore have certain rights.

So what’s the solution? Is there a middle ground on this issue?

Sadly, I simply don’t see a solution forming in any realistic sense. The idealists on both sides don’t realize that the only way for their solutions to formulate is for genocide to occur (either a complete killing of the Jews or a complete killing of the Palestinians). The Palestinian idealist and the Israeli idealist do share one common trait, and that is that both want to see the other side completely eradicated. For the Christian, this ought to be a far more complicated subject that it is; in short, an honest Christian cannot support the Palestinians or the Israelis. An honest Christian cannot support a system that is predominately run by radical Islamists who have no problem murdering innocent people, including their own people. Even if one admires their ends and their plight, at the point innocent civilians are targeted and treated as combatants, or used as human shields, one simply cannot support such a movement. Likewise, an honest Christian cannot support a secular state that seeks to oppress Christians as well as humans in general who aren’t of a certain ethnicity and religion. If Barak Obama attempted to pass laws in the United States against Christians that have been passed in Israel, there would be rioting and rebellion on the streets tomorrow morning. If we wouldn’t support it here, why should we support it overseas?

Ultimately, I think all political options have failed. I don’t think any amount of diplomacy will fix the problem at this point. Rather, politics has to wait for the cultures to catch up. In other words, the solution has to be found at a grassroots level among a small group of activists who just want peace. It needs to be a group that, instead of blaming one side more than the other, realizes that both sides are full of significant flaws that need to be corrected. Most importantly, they need to speak to their peers and do all they can to convince their peers that peace is far more preferable than continued bloodshed and animosity. Both sides need to find a way to avoid bloodshed and instead take on peaceful acts of civil disobedience; if bloodshed simply cannot be avoided, then it needs to stay between military combatants.

The arguments on both sides of number of Israeli deaths vs. number of Palestinian deaths, or the popular argument of “proportionate response” simply minimize this issue. The loss of life is not some brute and cold calculus that can be used to measure our response to a situation. Whether it is 18 Israelis dead to 100 Palestinians dead or 20 Palestinians dead to 40 Israelis dead, the fact is they’re dead. All military responses are inherently out or proportion to the initial attack – otherwise the military would never win. No war is won by even responses. This is the nature of warfare and why warfare should be avoided unless absolutely necessary; war will progress with disproportionate responses until one side finally says, “Enough,” or until one side is simply eradicated. Thus, to expect a proportioned response is naïve as no military that wants to achieve victory will ever do this. Instead, we need to cast aside our superfluous calculus and simply recognize that both sides are living in terror and both sides are mourning the loss of innocent loved ones.

As a Christian, I do believe that the Jews are God’s chosen people (for a more nuanced view of this, go here), but that doesn’t mean I need to support everything Israel does. Why should I support everything Israel does (a secular nation I might add, thus casting quite a bit of doubt that Israel fulfills any prophecy) when nowhere in the Bible do we find God supporting everything Israel does? Along the same lines, as a Christian I believe that all humans are made in the image of God and therefore should not be oppressed, but that doesn’t mean I should support the Palestinians in their actions against innocent civilians.

Thus, the Christian position is one that is ultimately one of non-support, but condemnation to both sides. I believe the Palestinians are made in God’s image. No amount of prophecy (or misinterpretations of Scripture), however, can convince me that God somehow wants them all wiped out or moved from the land of Israel. Such a belief is antithetical to the Gospel. At the same time, I believe the Jews are also made in God’s image. No amount of support for the oppressed, however, can convince me that the Palestinians are somehow justified in launching rockets into Israel or that all the Jews should be relocated. Again, such a belief is antithetical to the Gospel.

I do hope that one day there is peace. I hope one day the wall in Israel can be brought down, not for the sake of being brought down, but because there is no need for it. I hope one day to see two nations, not brokered by UN charters with UN “peacekeepers” at the border, but put together by both societies in a peaceful manner. I hope that one-day disputes over land are settled through negotiations and maybe even competitive trade, not through suicide attacks and helicopter gunships. Ultimately, I hope for peace, but this may just be a fool’s hope.

Random Thoughts: 9/9/2010

* Saying embryonic stem cell research is justifiable because of the medical advances it might bring is equivalent to saying that Dr. Eduard Wirths was justified in his experiments because of the medical advances he brought about.

* I can’t imagine Paul walking into a pagan temple and taking a hammer to the idols placed within; I can’t imagine he would support burning the holy book of another religion, even if the religion is false.

* A church’s success isn’t measured by how controversial they are or by how big their congregation happens to be. True success in a church is found in the following; fidelity to the truth of God and service to the unfortunate. Should a preacher ever utter a word of heresy from the pulpit or a member ever want for life’s necessities, only then can the church truly be called a failure.

* The world wants nothing to do with Christ for one of two reasons. Either they want nothing to do with Christ because His pure light has exposed their sins or the only image of Christ they’ve seen has been from His followers who’s sins have hidden the pure light of Christ. We should never be an excuse for unbelief.

* Would abortion exist if those who went to picket abortion clinics also chose to take in an unwed mother during her pregnancy and handle her medical woes?

* If Christians were to act in pure love towards each other and towards the world starting tomorrow we would all be committed to the hospital for insanity because the world does not know how to handle true love. But we should not placate the world for fear of our insanity, rather we should desire to live more fully in the insanity of God’s love.

* Christ gained nothing out of dying for us and redeeming us. His glory is infinite, so He did not increase His glory or add to it. His act of death was a pure sacrifice, one where He gained nothing in the process. Let us follow His example.

* War is a hell of a thing – it requires men to kill other men. It requires the human nature to be at combat with human nature. To kill a man is in effect to kill oneself, no matter how justified the action may be. Is there anything in this world more unnatural than warfare?

* “Christianity is a crutch to handle the trials of this world” isn’t an argument against Christianity; it’s an argument against the world.

How the Palestinians can win independence (in a way)

The conflict between Israel and Palestinians has heated up quite a bit lately due to the attack on the “aid” flotilla sent to Gaza. This has left many wondering, “Can there ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians?” Some Jews (and supporters of Israel) think that peace can only be found when the Palestinians leave Israel. Alternatively, many Palestinians (and supporters of Palestinians) believe peace can only be found when the Jews leave ‘Palestine’ (hat tip to Helen Thomas). The fact is, neither option is tenable or humane.

For the Jews, Israel holds significance for two reasons. First, it is their ancestral homeland. Their history centers around what occurred in Jerusalem, so much so that for 2,000 years Jews would always say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Jerusalem was their home, given to them (in their minds) by God. While they faced various wars and occupations during their reign in Jerusalem, they at least had a home. After the Roman Empire expelled the Jews from Jerusalem in 70AD, they were on their own. Wherever they went they faced persecution. When the German princes, Italian provinces, French government, and Spanish inquisitors punished the Jews, the Jews went east and settled in Prussia and Hungary. How ironic that a few hundred years later, a population of over 7 million Jews in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia was reduced to a population of just over 6,000 in the modern day (not all died in the Holocaust, many fled to other countries). This points out the second reason why Israel holds significance for the Jews – it ensures that they are free from persecution.

The Jews have learned the hardway that just because a nation is friendly to them today does not mean they will be friendly tomorrow. As I pointed out above, the Polish government was friendly to the Jews, but eventually turned on them. Even the various German provinces under the Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century were friendly to Jews, but turned on them when financial crises hit or when plague hit. America has traditionally been friendly to the Jews, but there’s no guarantee that America won’t turn on them tomorrow. For the Jews, to have a homeland of their own is of vital importance; to have it on their ancestral grounds is even better.

In all of this, however, the Palestinians cannot be ignored. In Israeli society they have been treated as second-class citizens. They are not allowed to vote, not allowed to serve in the military, and so on. Granted, these measures are taken to keep a Jewish majority in the government and military, but it is still unfair to the Palestinians. Likewise, Israel’s neighbors of Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria have been quite unwilling to allow Palestinians to integrate into their respective societies. This leaves the Palestinian without a place to call home.

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Moral Equivalency

When asked what the biggest hurdle to the Middle East peace process was, Jimmy Carter said it was the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. I have to ask – did Carter fall down and hit his head somewhere between 1980 and the present day? 

Let’s look at a few facts:

* The biggest obstacle is most likely the fact that Hamas – the biggest governmental party for the Palestinians – does not recognize Israel as a legitimate nation

* It is the express intent of such terrorist organizations to “drive the Jews into the sea,” not back to the pre-1967 borders

* Like it or not, Israel won those lands in a battle against 6 different Arab nations. They didn’t take it from the nation of Palestine, because such a nation did not exist. Rather, those lands were owned by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. There was no Palestinian government (or solidarity movement). It is the equivalent of saying the US needs to return the Southwestern portion of the United states to Mexico, or make it its own nation, even though we won that land in a war

* All land is taken from someone. The land of Israel is no different. It is currently owned by the Jews. Before that, the British. Before that, the Ottoman Empire. Before that, the Muslim armies under Saladin. Before that, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Before that, the French. Before that, the Muslim armies. Before that, the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire. Before that, the Roman Empire. Before that, the Jews. And the list goes on and on. Multiple nations have staked claim in Israel. To say that it belongs to the Palestinians – a bedouin people who decided to settle there – is quite absurd. 

* Israel often takes harsh actions against the Palestinians because the Palestinians are known for blowing Israelis up

* Even if we say the terrorism is a response to what Israel has done, does that make it right? Israel targets military targets surrounded by civilians, which inevitably leads to collateral damage. The Palestinians target civilian targets – the death of Israeli citizens aren’t collateral damage, they are the targets

* The Israelis have shown they wanted peace and want a co-existence with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have shown they want peace by the eradication of the Jewish government

Regardless of one’s religion or views of Biblical eschatology, from a purely rational point of view, Israel is in the right. Israeli settlements may hinder the peace process, but they are a far cry from the biggest obstacle. Every time Israel has done something to move toward peace, it has been met with rocket launches and bombs…and silence from those who want “peace” in Israel. Carter, Obama, Clinton…all of them are silent when rockets fall in Israel or busses are blown up. But the moment those Jews build a house on land they won in a war, well that’s just the biggest obstacle to peace. 

A nation with leaders such as these, leaders who are blind and don’t understand the first thing about justice, is a nation that will not survive, nor does it have a right to survive.