Europe’s voicelessness in its own moral wilderness.

Yesterday, a rally of some 7,000 people gathered in Brussels to protest ‘against terror and hate’.  The march was led by some of those wounded or present at the suicide bombings at Belgium’s main airport and metro station on March 22.  Responsibility for the attacks which seized 32 lives was assumed by the militant group, Islamic State, who had also asserted their claim on the Paris attacks in November which killed 130 people.  The demonstration which took place yesterday is reported to have been subdued; carried out in relative silence.  The march was intended to mark a public display of ‘disgust and solidarity’ and yet it seems that neither expressions could find their voice.

Perhaps this voicelessness has no greater significance than the numb feeling which grips victims of extreme brutality, and yet on the other hand there may be more involved than the muted solemnity of mourning in yesterday’s gathering.

For the last 6 months Israel has experienced a wave of terror unlike any previously experienced in its almost 80-year history since the foundation of the modern state.  It has been dubbed the ‘Lone Wolf Intifada’ by many sources referencing the lack of organisation or co-ordination in the attacks carried out by individuals as young as 12.  It has also been referred to as the ‘Knife Intifada’  or ‘Stabbing Intifada’ referring to the principle form which attacks have taken, although weapons other than knives have also been used including automatic firearms, scissors, petrol bombs, and vehicles used to ram civilians or public servicemen.  A report released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of March stated that there have been 338 attacks since September 2015, of which 42 were vehicular rammings, and 83 shootings; the rest stabbings.  34 Israelis and foreign tourists have been killed and 413 injured.  If molotov cocktail and rock-throwing attacks are included, the numbers are dramatically higher.

The response in Western media (not just in Europe) has been outrage, but of a completely inexplicable moral standard.  A comment piece published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph on 23 February titled, “The media is twisting the knife into Israel over the ‘lone wolf intifada'”,  aptly illustrated the problem.  A backwards form of reporting was employed from almost the outset of the wave of violence with a BBC report on one of the most shocking stories in which a Palestinian terrorist stabbed 4 Israelis (one a 2-year old, and another its mother) in Jerusalem’s Old City.  Two of the four were killed leaving a widow and a fatherless child.  The BBC’s initial headline read, “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.”  The headline was changed after complaints.  But the headline reflected only the first case of a reporting style which stubbornly upheld an equal apportioning of blame and outrage to what were viewed as two sides in a morally ambiguous conflict.  This also carried within it a false equivalence between attacker and victim, particularly piercing in its hypocrisy in the case of the 2-year-old child who evidently, by these standards, must hold a portion of the blame for the death of the terrorist who killed its father.  Occasionally this equivalence and statistical bartering for moral superiority handed the high ground to the terrorists such as in a case of 3 Palestinians who were shot dead while carrying out stabbing attacks on a number of Israelis (only one being killed).  The headline in The Irish Times read, “3 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Die in West Bank Incidents.”

Perhaps the voice of Europe’s moral outrage has been compromised, although certainly not consciously, in the localisation of terror in its own cities.  Can Europe assign equivalence to those who attempt to bring terror, confusion  and death and those who uphold order and law in Israel, and then at the same time with integrity uphold outrage against the same forms of terror, confusion and death in its own cities?  Some might suggest that media biases do not reflect the views of the masses, but McDonalds only serves cheeseburgers because people want to eat cheeseburgers.  Likewise, the Western media only presents stories that people will consume most easily.

The result of this dissemination of duplicity is that Europe can find no voice in the face of the same forms of terror which seek to destroy civilised society in Israel when they appear in its own cities.  It is confused about its own cause and that of its enemies.

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. – Mark 3:23-25, NASB

I am not calling any nation or group of nations Satan, but the justification of terror and violence in Israel as something equivalent to the actions of the forces of order is both a Satanic and demonic agenda that Europe has been agreeing with in recent months.  When that same demonic agenda comes to bring death home to Europe, it is little wonder that Europe can find no voice to its own outrage.  I often even seem to hear attempts to ‘understand the motivations’ behind such violence in Western media, or even ‘find common ground’ and ‘dialogue’ with such groups.  Confusion and moral fuzziness seems increasingly prevalent.

I have no delight whatsoever in seeing in Europe the kinds of violence that have been common in the Middle East for many years, but I have little surprise either.  Europe cannot find a physical defence against such forms when its moral and spiritual defence against them has become so weak and faltering.  If a defence is to be raised, it must be raised first in absolute moral and spiritual outrage against the entire philosophy of those who engender such acts, no matter against whom or in which location they take place.

Today, April 18, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated the intentions of the government in Israel to deal decisively with whatever forms of terror arise, as the IDF have issued warnings of escalation over the Passover season.  With Independence Day on May 11-12 also often leading to violence and demonstrations following, it is a time when public servicemen must be especially alert.  But Israel is wise in its policy of absolute intolerance of terror and its refusal to negotiate its intolerance in any circumstances or pressure.  Europe and the West must find a similarly uncompromising moral voice if it is to counter the assaults which may come to it in the future.

In John 10, Jesus describes good leadership.  First He describes Himself in contrast to an antagonist, the ‘thief’, saying, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  The difference between Jesus and the ‘thief’ is stark.  Jesus comes to bring life, and the thief comes to bring death.  The terms in which these two opposites are described are absolute.  Jesus then goes on to describe His own leadership in contrast with bad leadership.  He describes himself as the Good Shepherd, a good leader who will defend His sheep against the wolves that come, but the bad leaders or ‘hired hands’ are those who flee when the wolves come:

He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. – John 10:12, NASB

God has promised that He will be a shepherd to Israel (Ezekiel 34:11-15; Psalm 80:1; Jeremiah 31:10).  He will protect her from the wolves, and He will give grace to a government that seeks to keep His people from wolves.  But for Europe and the West, it remains a choice whether its leaders will agree with the One who gives life, or the one who brings death; and whether the leaders of nations will take a stand against the wolves, or flee from them.  May God give grace for them to choose His heart, submit to Jesus’ perfect leadership and agree wholeheartedly with life and not death.

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Arrival in Beer Sheva.

This month feels unusual. It should be unusual, as this month I have begun a PhD in archaeology. This month I have also moved country to the Negev desert in southern Israel. The two are connected.

I want to take some time to tell you a little bit about how I got here.

I left school with little understanding of what I wanted to do in life. I liked English- I enjoyed reading and hoped I might be able to be a writer or an artist. I had a set of good A-levels and GCSEs so I began an English degree at University College London. But that degree felt like a drag. I pushed on through essay after essay, because I felt sure it was the way to fulfill my dreams. It made sense logically. My mind could comprehend a natural path from English student to journalist to writer in maybe 10 years. But somehow it didn’t feel right.

As I was praying one morning in my apartment in the final year of my English degree, I felt God speak to me clearly. He said, ‘I have anointed you as an archaeologist’. I had been on an archaeological dig in the summer of that year with a friend of mine from school who seemed as bored with his archaeology degree as I was with my English degree. I had enjoyed the dig, but when God said those words, they sounded as crazy to me as I have no doubt that they did to you as you read them. I didn’t even know it was possible to be anointed as an archaeologist never mind what it meant, but something inside me knew that this was not just me and I was going to have to accept what God said one way or another.

So I looked at the archaeology section of my university website and scanned through the Master’s degrees. I didn’t want to do another Bachelor’s degree. The prospect of studying alongside another group of undergraduate students, many of whom were only in it for the beer, held little appeal. I saw one degree which sounded interesting- MA in archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East- and I remembered how God had always drawn me to Israel since I was a child listening to prayer updates from a man called Lance Lambert in my parents car- he had a nice voice… I thought that I would go and speak to the course convener for this MA and see whether he thought it would be possible to do an MA in archaeology after having finished a BA in English. To my astonishment, his response was that it was what he had done at Oxford. This was the first in a number of unusual circumstances which were about to occur.

It turned out that my university was the only university in the country that provided a kind of ‘conversion course’ in archaeology that would allow me to proceed straight to MA level. Not only that, but the archaeology department was asking for students who wanted to participate in a dig in Israel that summer. At once I remembered what I had heard God say in a time of prayer during the first year of my BA. ‘You’ll go to Israel at the end of your degree.’ It made no sense at the time, but it’s exactly what happened.
While on that dig, I fell in love with the country I visited, despite how unromantic my experience was. I had no convenient schedule of visits to holy sites with expedient accompanying Bible readings. I used public transport with pathetically stunted Hebrew addressed to nonplussed drivers who evidently had no intention of speaking any English. I stayed in student dormitories with cockroaches as roommates.

I find that the little impressions God gives that catch unawares are often the most significant ways in which He speaks to me. One of those occurred while I was on excavation for the first time in Israel. As I wandered around the empty university campus in the height of summer, praying quietly, I had a sense – just an impression but undeniable, that I would study there for a long time.

And here I am beginning my PhD at that same campus. It could take 5 years to complete and a minimum of 4.

This is a much abbreviated account. I returned to excavate again at the same university in the middle of my MA, and I did not have to push to study here. My soon-to-be PhD supervisor approached me during the dig and asked me about my plans after my MA. It was maybe our third or fourth conversation and he essentially offered me a PhD on the spot.

At every turn, I have found that God is writing an amazing story as long as I’m not the one that’s in control. There are plenty of other tales to tell, and I am sure that there will be many more to come. The common denominator in all of them being my lack of forward-planning. I could never have planned these things.

But God did, before the foundation of the world, according to the Bible.

…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will… (Ephesians 1:4-5, NKJV)

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV)

I heard a saying recently, flying around on social media. It says, ‘Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.’

Don’t believe it. You aren’t capable of writing a story like God’s.

I think the point of all this is that God is a God who makes way, as long as He is the one who gets executive creative oversight.

Jesus says in the book of Revelation that He is always standing at the door knocking and waiting for someone to let Him in. We pass this scripture off as one for evangelism, but Jesus addressed it to believers. I am convinced that too often we who claim to love Him are the ones who are leaving Him out in the cold. He wants to write our lives as miraculous stories that only He could tell so that He will get all the glory, but the truth is that too often we still want to be sheep going our own way just like it says in Isaiah. He has to be the one Who makes the way. I leave you with the scripture from whence comes this blog’s name- it seems fitting…

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19, NKJV)

Whose peace is it anyway?

Recently, Pope Francis made a comment to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that created a global furore.  Apparently, the Pope had said that Mahmoud Abbas was or could become an ‘Angel of Peace’ to Israel.  The comment was followed by prolonged debates over Italian translation and a general outrage that culminated eventually in a personal correction by the Pope himself.

So what was all the fuss about?

To an Israeli, the idea that anyone would call Mahmoud Abbas an ‘Angel of Peace’, whose history of praising known terrorists responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians as well as numerous cases of incitement such as the notorious call for ‘Days of Rage’ in 2014, is understandably offensive.  Not least in respect of failed attempts in the past year by the Palestinian Authority to form a lasting unity agreement with the terrorist group, Hamas, and whose very insignia depicts a map with Israel transformed entirely into an all green Palestine.

To me, though, the Pope’s comments highlighted a much deeper misunderstanding in the so-called ‘Peace Process’.  I have no doubt that Pope Francis is sincere when he states that his words had only been intended to encourage Abbas to pursue peace, but what I really wondered is to what kind of peace was the pontiff alluding when he said it.

Recently, I have been gripped by a passage in Isaiah 32,

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
The WORK of RIGHTEOUSNESS will be peace,
And the EFFECT of RIGHTEOUSNESS, quietness and assurance forever. (Isaiah 32:16-17 NKJV, emphasis added)

Global leaders have been hammering away at the ‘Peace Process’ for decades now, and it has proved much more static than its name suggests.  The approach of these leaders has not progressed far beyond that of a frustrated parent who tells their two toddlers to kiss, make up and share their toys; it’s been patronising and has betrayed woeful ignorance of the region.  The problem is that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority are not toddlers and neither are the people they govern, and the history of violence and hatred between Jews and Arabs in this little portion of middle eastern land runs back deep into history.  Leaders in the UN, in the USA and in the EU and now the Pope act like peace is something both sides can just wake up one day and decide to do, and they completely miss the key issue; righteousness.  Peace is the effect of righteousness.

Recent negotiations and agreements have often demanded concessions, but they have never demanded righteousness.  In 2014, hundreds of known and convicted Palestinian terrorists were released from Israeli prisons just to keep Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table.  In 2005, thousands of Jews were removed from their homes in the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza; an act which was the first time in history that any nation had voluntarily relinquished land to a group that had not yet accepted peace.  In the midst of all of these negotiations, there has also always been the ‘elephant in the room’ of the ultimate lack of commitment by the PA to the ‘Two State Solution’.  Their global branding is, as mentioned above, a green map of Israel.  They still refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.  Their ultimate end is what it has always been; the elimination of Israel.  Negotiations, with a seemingly endless supply of international pressure for Israel to make concessions, are a mere means to that end.

The Middle East needs peace, but it needs righteousness first,

But seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His RIGHTEOUSNESS…  (Matthew 6:33 NKJV, emphasis added)

There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”  (Isaiah 48:22 NKJV)

World leaders are seeking a peace that comes from human decision, but God says genuine peace is an effect of spiritual transformation.  They are all too keen on developing ‘peace plans’ and ‘peace proposals’, but they have no plans or proposals to institute righteousness.  The reality is that they could never develop such plans as long as they don’t seek God.  Peace and righteousness actually both belong to one Man, and can’t be instituted by anyone else.

Peace I leave with you, MY PEACE I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  (John 14:27 NKJV, emphasis added)

Jesus describes two kinds of peace; peace that He gives and peace that the world gives, and He says the two are in total opposition to one another.  The world is offering and even trying to enforce a peace in the middle east, and Jesus is also offering His peace plan.   The two plans for peace in the middle east are in a deep and fundamental conflict with one another.

Some Christians would probably say that I’m being very negative – and that what I’m saying means we should just give up on peace in the middle east altogether.  That’s NOT what I’m saying.  I’m saying that peace comes only in the revelation of a Man, Jesus, Who IS our righteousness and peace.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might BECOME the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

For He Himself IS OUR PEACE, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity… (Ephesians 2:14-15 NKJV, emphasis added)

The problem to me with the Pope’s statement to Abbas is not really so much to do with Abbas’ track record with Israel, but more that it suggested that any man other than Jesus could institute peace between Israel and those who, quite frankly, would rather that Israel didn’t exist.  I’m realizing more and more that when we are praying for peace in Israel and the middle east, we are praying for the revelation of Jesus above and beyond anything else.

Isaiah 32 begins by describing His peace plan,

Behold, a KING will reign in RIGHTEOUSNESS,
And princes will rule with justice.
A MAN will be as a hiding place from the wind,
And a cover from the tempest,
As rivers of water in a dry place,
As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Isaiah 32:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)

Peace will come with the increase of Jesus’ government in the middle east.  It will only come with prayer, and with the expectation of the Kingdom of God coming in power.  Peace of the heart, peace between brothers and peace to nations only comes with His righteous government.