|The Human Tragedy in the Middle East: A Christian Perspective
12/27/2023 - For followers of Christ as well as for anyone else, exposure in one way or another to the tragedy in the Middle East that has been unfolding before us has been unavoidable. Due to the proliferation of global television, smartphone, and Internet communications that can now convey the most terrible wartime images of death and destruction on a moment's notice, we are now its uncomfortable witnesses as never before. Facebook alone reaches three billion people with the number of TikTok users approaching two billion. Worldwide, there are now some five billion total users of social media, leading to huge audiences for the depictions of war and its consequences.
As reporter Bryan Walsh has noted, "In nearly a quarter-century as a working journalist, including multiple years running foreign news coverage, I don't think I've ever seen a story seize the world's attention, nor divide it so sharply, as the war in Gaza, accelerated in part by the growth of social media platforms that weren't as widespread in previous iterations of the crisis."
With over one thousand victims on the Israeli side of this escalating war and "many, many thousands of civilians" on the Palestinian side as the White House has acknowledged, there is the temptation to quantify the suffering by assigning numbers to the men, women, and children who have perished, leaving the unpleasant matter out of sight and mind as we wring our hands. Unfortunately, this tendency to measure the scale of human suffering risks turning the lives lost in a brutal, unforgiving war such as this one into abstractions and not into the flesh and blood people we would otherwise see in their complete humanity.
The lives lost in the life and death struggle that took place at the Kibbutz Be'Eri in Israel followed by the wreckage and devastation now convulsing Gaza's battered landscape do not and should not lend themselves only to numbers. They are all deeply painful human stories that cannot in any way be properly quantified for they represent "incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage, and despair," as stated by Volker Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. To escape the trap of abstractions, we need to consider each victim in the personal terms we use when describing members of our own family; that is, father, mother, husband, wife, or son and daughter and not as some distant Israeli or Palestinian whom we have never met and never will know.
Children as war's victims should have a special place for our concern, as they did for Jesus, who said in words that have been repeated throughout the ages, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."
Engaging in this kind of reflection will place an emotional weight on each one of us to be sure, but nothing could be more consistent with the requirements of faith. For the very essence of Christ's teaching was his commandment to "love one another; as I have loved you, so you must love one another" whoever and wherever they are. Doing so means taking the suffering of these wartime victims deep into our souls and making it our own as best as we can.
As Karim A. A. Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has reminded us, "We can't willfully turn our faces away from that suffering because it's hard to watch, because it makes uncomfortable viewing. We can't turn our faces away from the suffering of innocents in particular."
In experiencing the pain of others in such a personal way, we will in turn be moved to consider the further, complimentary aspect of Christ's teaching, which conjoins us to always seek peace, because "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."
These pillars of the Christian faith reflect not only the aspirations of those who are Jesus' disciples but of all those who are of good will, including our fellow Islamic and Judaic believers. In these war-torn times, to love one another, much less to love one's enemies as Christ called us to do, may seem hopelessly idealistic and peace may seem out of reach. But in the end, nothing less can save us from the further tragedies of cruel wars.
We should never forget that in expressing love for others, especially the most defenseless and most vulnerable, we not only reflect the heavenly power and glory of unfailing love, but we also become worthy of it.
Louis S. Segesvary, Ph.D. is a retired career American Foreign Service officer and elder in the Reformed Church of America. These are his views.
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