Well, they did it—though I don’t believe this is something to be celebrated. Israel has officially inflicted 20 times more casualties on Gaza than the damnable attack of Oct 7 leveled on Israel. According to Al Jazeera, the death toll in Gaza has now exceeded 25,000. This, of course, does not include the 8,000+ that are missing—likely dead—under the rubble. Nor does it account for the 62,000+ that are injured.
But death does not even begin to address the human suffering in Gaza.
The death toll does not account for the 1,000+ children who have had amputations without anesthesia (as reported by UNICEF: the Washington Post calls them “kitchen table amputations”). Nor does it account for the 1.9 million (out of 2.3 million) internally displaced persons. Nor does it account for the fact that those displaced know they will never return home—after all, there are no homes to return to (it is estimated that 300,000-400,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed in northern Gaza).
And how are we to calculate the trauma of the surviving children whose entire families have been killed? (the new acronym that should never be, “WCNSF: wounded child no surviving family”)?
After the horrific attack on Oct 7, I wrote a post the next day. I wrote in response to President Biden’s speech shortly after the attacks on the morning of Oct 7. I was deeply concerned because Biden, in accord with America’s interests in the region and his personal political interests (although now it looks like he has seriously miscalculated), affirmed that the US had Israel’s back “full stop.”
And that was the cause of my horror. You see, as damnable as the acts of Hamas were on Oct 7, which when I wrote the post that was released on Oct 8, we were just learning how devastating the attack was, I knew that Israel’s reprisals would be ten-fold worse. Or so I thought.
NB: In full disclosure, a week after I wrote the post of Oct 8, I wondered if I should remove it. By then, the devastation wrought by Hamas had become more apparent (though the allegations of burning babies in ovens and beheading of others, as well as some other sensational accounts have since been shown to be false). I decided, however, to let the post remain active. After all, it is a matter of academic integrity. I said what I said.
Well, it appears now that my fears of Oct 8 were more than well-founded. Instead of responding ten-fold, Israel, with the full support of the US, and with US weapons, has responded a hundred-fold—though I am not sure how to even begin to calculate such things.
Jesus says peace is not through violence
I began my post of Oct 8, by citing Jesus, “For all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52). And I have continued to cite Jesus’ words in subsequent posts.
I have been arguing that wars only bring more violence and destruction.
I have also argued that war is what nations do.
This means that when we, the Church, advocate for war we have capitulated to doing things the way of the nations. And in doing so, we radically undermined the Gospel of the Kingdom.
But you might say, “Wars are sometimes necessary.” “Nations have the right to defend themselves.” “Rob, you are so naïve.”
The problems with this line of reasoning are multiple (not the naïve part; that is true)—too much to respond to in fullness here.
Let me begin with a point of clarification: I have never said that nations cannot defend themselves—though apparently, that right does not extend to the oppressed within a nation (as I noted in my post of Oct 8). Why does Israel have the right to defend itself but the people of Gaza do not?
NB: By no means do I intend to justify terrorism. But merely to point out that the right to self-defense should apply to all people.
Instead, my argument has simply been that the Church should not be crying out for war but for a just peace. The oppression must end and maybe then the violence might end.
When, in my post of Oct 8, I decried Biden’s speech of Oct 7, it was because his response was to grant unquestioning support to a nation that has a 50+ year history of countering acts of terrorism with a ten-fold force.
NB: In my post of Oct 8, I also questioned the use of terms such as “war” and “terrorism.” It seems to me that Israel’s response to Oct 7 is just as much an act of terrorism as the attack of Oct 7. If we prefer to use the designation “war,” then why is it that when missiles come from Gaza they are acts of terrorism? If this is a war, then it is a war.
Second, I have been arguing that maybe the best response should have been and still should be diplomacy and not more violence.
In the post, I asked the question, “What would motivate Hamas to attack Israel like this? After all, they have to know that their assault will have only moderate success and that it is the Gazans themselves who will end up suffering far more than the Israelis as a result of Israel’s response.”
Then I added, “Could it be that the Gazans consider their inhumane existence so desperate that they were willing to fire ‘thousands of missiles’ into Israel in the ‘hope’ (indeed a twisted ‘hope’) that some might get through the Iron Dome and inflict suffering on some Israelis?”
If this was the motivation for Hamas’ attack on Oct 7, do we really suppose that more violence would solve the issue? Do we not see that Hamas has only become stronger as a result of Israel’s attack? Terrorizing people will do that!
The Creation account reveals the gospel of peace
I wish to reiterate that the Christian gospel is predicated on a God who is the God of peace and justice. He is the One who lovingly suffers violence in order to bring redemption. We see this not only in the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels but in the very tenor of the biblical story (as well as the book of Revelation! Tune in to the determinetruth podcast to learn more, or you can wait a year until my commentary comes out).
In Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, order is established through conflict. The gods wage war with one another. In the Enuma Elish, for example, Marduk (the god of Babylon) wages war against Tiamat—the dragon-like creature of the chaotic sea. After defeating Tiamat, Marduk cuts her in two and creates the world from her body.
When we read Genesis, however, we see that the biblical account of creation differs from its ancient counterparts on the use of violence. God creates, not by violently defeating other gods—in fact, the sea monsters were made by God on the 5th day (Gen 1:21)—but by speaking, “and God said” (10x; Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 29). God declares it to be and the chaos (Gen 1:2) is fashioned into order and it was “good/very good” (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
That violence is the way of humanity and counter to the way of Christ is evidenced in that the first story narrated in Genesis after humanity is expelled from the Garden is one of murder (Gen 4:1-15). Cain’s fear after murdering his brother is that those who find him will murder him (Gen 4:14). This is clearly not what God intended but the consequence of human rule.
When we come to the New Testament, we see that the Kingdom of God was established by violence, but it was violence suffered (the Cross) and not violence inflicted.
Finally, if we fast-forward to the final judgment, we see that Christ defeats His enemies by means of His spoken word (this is surely the significance of the sword coming from the mouth of Christ; Rev 19:15).
Christopher Watkins, citing John Milbank, notes, “Love is ‘The original law of human social being, and violence is its negation.” Watkins, then, concludes, “It is only when we begin with the Trinity that love, not violence, is primary and fundamental” (Biblical Critical Theory, 50-51).
As the destruction of Gaza reaches a point of no return and as the human suffering and the death toll reach unbearable heights, I call on the people of God to cry out, “ENOUGH.”
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