Rumours of War
Angela Merkel Chancellor of Germany uttered chilling words a few days ago. ‘No one should believe that another half century of peace in Europe is a given — it’s not,’ she said. Coming from the political leader of Germany, that is scary. After relative peace in Europe since 1945, to raise the spectre of war again is troubling. She was speaking in the context of the possible collapse of the Euro currency with massive debts causing unforeseen problems between the nations in the Euro zone. The peace hard earned and hard won in the Second World War may not last forever after all. If it does not, it is godless living and human greed that will have destroyed it.
Troubling also is what is happening in the middle east. Israel is making plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facility at Fordow. This would be a pre-emptive strike to prevent Iran developing a nuclear bomb with the intention of destroying Israel. There are reports of tacit American approval and of British compliance. The International Atomic Energy Authority has validated sufficient evidence for international concern. There is still the possibility of diplomatic action with even more economic sanctions being placed against Iran. But Israel does not wait for everyone to agree before doing what is in its national interest.
Operation Babylon was a surprise Israeli air strike carried out on June 7, 1981 against Iraq, destroying a nuclear reactor under construction 10 miles southeast of Baghdad. Israel claimed it acted in self-defence, and that the reactor had 'less than a month to go' before 'it might have become critical'. Ten Iraqi soldiers and one French civilian were killed. The attack took place about three weeks before the elections for the Knesset. The attack was strongly criticised around the world and Israel was rebuked by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly in two separate resolutions.
There are always rumours of war in every place and in every generation. Some become awful realities and others slink away and disappear. A basic factor in everything is the misuse of freedom while there is peace. Things get out of control, nations seek to protect their interests. Stronger nations become bullies. The Israel / America / Britain axis against the world cannot hold for ever. The question is to what extent and to what degree actual war may break out in the middle east at some point.
This is the People of God we are talking about, the Chosen People, the Children of Israel. This is the promised land we are talking about - flowing with milk and honey, promised forever. 'Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant O Israel. I have made you…O Israel I will not forget you'. Israel is still the world’s stumbling block - Jerusalem - the most precious, divided, vulnerable city in the whole world. The Old Testament story continues because the nations of the New Testament formed Israel in 1948 as a homeland for persecuted Jews after the Holocaust.
It is an article of Koranic faith for Muslims to seek the destruction of Israel. Islam’s first massacre in Mohammad’s lifetime was of Jews. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims in the middle and far east. And how many Jews in Israel? About 5,800,000. (There are also 1.6 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens). Israel is an outpost of western democracy, beleaguered and surrounded by great enemies. The Biblical story continues. The great prophets of the Old Testament preached against the injustices and lifestyles of the once called People of God who had forgotten their mission and purpose. For example, Isaiah said:
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ 'Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting
ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I'. (58)
Many critics of Israel today suggest that Israel does not follow the teaching of the Old Testament in its treatment of the Palestinians. That Israel is harsh towards them denying its own humane spiritual history and defying the revealed will of God. Therefore it heaps up further and further judgement on itself and inevitable conflagration in the future. Israel’s few friends point out that Israelis are pragmatic and reasonable people who will make a deal for peace with anyone who will keep their side of the bargain. They have done so in the past, with Egypt and with Jordan.
For Christians the issues are much larger. Christianity’s reach in the world dwarfs that of Israel and Christianity’s good works outnumber those of Israel by millions. The theological issue is the same however - there is a revealed divine will against persecution and abuse and ill treatment of poorer people and a pro-active command to care for them, feed them, help them and look after them. And this is the way to peace.
When Paul arrived in Athens, he reached the cultural capital of the ancient world at the time. Rome was the political and military capital of the ancient world but Greece was its university, library and art gallery. Greece however had had no revealed relationship with God. Left to human imagination all it could muster was a belief in many gods reflecting aspects of human character and behaviour only. There actually were hundreds of these a few of which were thought to live above Mount Olympus. Zeus - supreme lord of gods, god of the sky, symbolised by the thunderbolt and Hera - wife of Zeus, protector of marriage, familiar with magic. Athena - daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. Aphrodite - goddess of love, romance, and beauty. Apollo - beautiful god of the sun, light, medicine, and music. Hermes - the speedy messenger of the gods, god of business. Hestia - calm goddess of home and home life, symbolised by the hearth which holds the continually-burning flame. Poseidon - god of the sea, horses, and of earthquakes.
We might laugh at these man made deities but who and what are own man made gods today? Wayne Rooney, Neil Lennon, Cheryl Cole, Simon Cowell, Susan Boyle, Michael Jackson, Lionel Messi, Bill Gates, Barack Obama. We have plenty of divas and divos. A god or goddess is created when we give worship to something or someone and give them the status that Christians only give to God and to Jesus. Muammar Gaddafi made himself into a god and that is why his life ended as it did when people took revenge on him. Kim Jong-il, leader of North Korea has made himself a god to be worshipped by his people whether they want to or not. Whenever a human being in whatever context makes of himself or herself an idol to be worshipped by others, they have made themselves into false gods.
In Athens Paul noticed the great contradiction between the cultural achievements of the city and people and their crazy polytheism. They had an altar dedicated to an Unknown God - a strange thing to have - a bit like putting a sign up saying - do not throw stones at this sign - and he used that as a point on which to embark on his evangelical message that the Maker of all that is has been revealed supremely in Jesus Christ and is knowable and understandable and for each a personal relationship is made possible. For Paul, the order of nations was part of divine providence. He saw that as something giving identity and security to humanity which would allow them to think more deeply about who they were and what their purpose might be. Paul thought that as you look at how much of daily life on earth is stable then you must be inclined to think that someone made it that way. So - he wants to tell the Athenians who this person is - the one and only Creator and the Father of Jesus Christ.
The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian Churches. You might have thought that it would have made Greece into a perfect society. But we know that 1500 years of Christianity in Scotland has not made us into a perfect society. Each generation has to learn anew its own salvation. Or not. It is Christianity that has held Europe together in good times and in bad. Without Christianity Angela Merkel’s words will come true. As humans we are meant to worship the one demonstrably true God as seen in Jesus Christ, whose life and example is beyond reproach. There are rumours of war - unwelcome - unexpected - but real - again in our lives and time. Christianity offers the moral and spiritual framework to resolve all human issues of conflict. Jesus lived in peace and offers his living peace as a dynamic inspiration and encouragement to us to resolve our problems peacefully. 'My peace I give to you - not as the world gives do I give to you'. The prayers of Christianity’s millions throughout the world may save the next generation from war. Against the odds, we have hope because we have Jesus Christ. He will have a say in what happens.