“God’s heart breaks over everyone killed”
In the season of goodwill, the headlines are dominated by war.
With conflict now raging in the Middle East as well as in Ukraine, the land where Jesus was born is sending its young men into battle to root out the terrorism on its borders.
Even experienced journalists struggled, when faced with evidence, to take in the enormity of the most brutal and barbaric attack on Israel and the Jewish people since the Holocaust. The 1,200 death toll in Israel’s small population equates to 10,000 UK or 60,000 US citizens killed in 24 hours.
Thus 50 years since the unexpected victory in 1973’s Yom Kippur War, God’s ‘chosen’ people are engulfed in an “abyss of pain and suffering which seemed to have no end”, according to the Evangelical Sisters of Mary, an order of nuns founded in Germany after World War 2. Their founder, Mother Basilea Schlink, initiated repentance for the Holocaust among her defeated fellow German citizens.
The tragedy of the Palestinian people also seems unending. With Gaza’s governing terror group Hamas waging war from its positions under hospitals, mosques and private homes, civilians are mercilessly used as human shields.
Hamas’ leaders live in luxury abroad while, on the ground in Gaza, its foot soldiers have been preventing citizens from evacuating (even shooting some) until the IDF (Israel Defence Force) gave them safe passage.
Despite the IDF’s targeted bombing before its ground offensive, civilians have died, although Hamas’ Ministry of Health figures are disputed.
Meanwhile a new wave of antisemitism has been unleashed across the world, not least through what is seen as largely biased reporting by the mainstream media. Since 7 October there has been a 510 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents in the UK, according to the Community Security Trust which monitors the safety of the UK’s Jewish communities.
It has also been reported that extremist imams are using their pulpits to openly attack Jews and lead prayer for a Hamas victory; the Chief Rabbi has said that this has caused British Jews “very deep pain and made them more fearful than at any time since 1945”.
In Israel itself, more than a quarter of a million Israelis are homeless because of the war; Mike Evans of the Jerusalem Prayer Team reports that there are now thousands of widows and orphans after the 7 October massacres: “They are under a lot of pressure and have nothing, no husband, no home, no clothes, absolutely nothing except bills and babies.”
The Prince of Peace
‘The Prince of Peace’ is one of the Old Testament terms for the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6), along with ‘Mighty God’ and ‘Everlasting Father’. It is easy to wonder if he is still in control, but there is evidence of fresh spiritual hunger and stories of heroism and self-sacrifice have emerged across nationalities.
A Bedouin soldier was hugged and applauded by Jewish Israelis for battling the Hamas terrorists. An Israeli Arab rescued two little girls when the terrorists attacked and took them to safety after their father was killed.
Meanwhile incidents of miraculous protection have been reported by Israeli soldiers, with a rabbi suddenly appearing in Gaza and an old woman in Lebanon, warning them in each case to flee before a bomb went off.
A nation unified
The horrors of 7 October have also brought the nation of Israel together.
As reported by Robin Benson in this paper, Israel’s enemies were rejoicing over the secular/religious schism in Israeli society due to PM Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reforms. Now tragedy has united the secular and religious citizens in a war effort.
Zaka, composed of Orthodox Jewish volunteers, has won great respect for its painstaking work sifting through the remains of the murdered to provide a dignified burial. When they feel overwhelmed, they take solace in prayer and song.
Further evidence that God is at work is seen in the renewed prayer around the world from Christians and in Israel itself. Each generation of Israelis hopes that their children will not have to go to war, but a crisis wakes up faith and, as outlined by Pastor Werner Oder in this paper, IDF troops have been going to war singing to God.
Children in Gaza have also heard the Gospel from a group working there; it was estimated that over 1,800 youngsters had heard a Gospel presentation in early November.
‘One new man’
The Bible speaks of God bringing about ‘one new man’ (Ephesians 2) when Jew and Gentile will be united in their love of the Jewish Messiah. Recent weeks have seen testimonies of former Muslims who now love the God of Israel going viral.
“They have nothing: no husband, no home, no clothes, absolutely nothing except bills and babies”
In this paper we report on two former Iranian and Hamas fighters who came to Christ and found their learned enmity against the Jews had been washed away. Through finding the Jewish Messiah, they realised that the hatred they bore had a spiritual root.
Above all, the Christian God, the Prince of Peace, is close to those who suffer. Brenda Taylor of Dovetail Shalom Ministries said after the 7 October atrocities: “God’s heart breaks for everyone who’s been killed”.
And Pastor Christy Smith of Brighton Elim said in his Sunday message on 5 November: “God cries for Jewish babies burnt alive and for Gazan children blown up in their homes (when Hamas would not allow them to leave). ‘Blessed are those that mourn: for they shall be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4).”
Comfort for the bereaved
Christmas can be lonely for many; in the West as well as the world’s war zones, the bereaved suffer. Mother Basilea Schlink of the Evangelical Sisters of Mary wrote: “If we feel lonely because we have lost a person dearest to us, Jesus is close by, wanting and waiting to give us himself and fill the aching void in our hearts. And he will do even more than that for us for where he is there is life in all its fullness.”
Christians believe Jesus suffered in our place. Jesus’ victory over death by rising again and his promise to return give us hope. So it is only in repentance for our own personal sin that we can regain peace. It is that peace which unites different people.
True peace comes one heart at a time. In this season where Jesus, the Prince of Peace is proclaimed, our part is to invite him into our hearts and our homes.