As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
I watched the battle raging in Israel along the Gaza Strip with a lot of personal pain. I used to live in Israel. I lived there at the tail end of the Yom Kippur War, beginning in early 1974. I lived on an agricultural settlement called a kibbutz named Menara. I went there to participate in an immigration program called, in Hebrew, an ulpan. The program consisted of a half day of Hebrew study and a half day of work. I got there very soon after the initial cease fire agreements were concluded, even though the fighting never completely stopped while I was there.
Kibbutz Menara has a beautiful, scenic view. It sits on top of a mountain that is part of the biblical Mountains of Lebanon. On one side of our mountain settlement was a long declining plain that ran west for 60 miles across southern Lebanon, all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea. Part of the fence that surrounded my kibbutz was the actual border between Lebanon and Israel. To the north were two ancient Crusader castle ruins and Syria. To the east was the Hula Valley, filled with small Israeli towns and other agricultural settlements along with their farming operations and fields. The other side of the valley was Mount Hermon, where the source of the Jordan River begins. Southeast of us, across the Hula Valley, stands the Golan Heights.
For the first four months, there were ongoing artillery battles still raging up on the Golan. Some of the biggest battles in that war took place there. We worked in fields just below. Above us in the sky, every day, were supersonic aerial dog fights, booming their repetitive double sonic booms over our heads.
I saw a lot of war. A lot more than I either expected or wanted but, nevertheless, I stayed there because I wanted to help. They needed it.
But one thing happened that has scarred me for life. I witnessed a terrorist attack. It happened in the town of Qiryat Shemona, which sat just below our kibbutz. I watched children being killed, tossed off the roof of an apartment building by terrorists who were also killed. We had a clear view of it happening from our settlement. On top of that, Kibbutz Menara had endured multiple rocket attacks in my time there; this was long before the protective shield of the present-day Iron Dome anti-missile technology was available.
The whole time I was there, with war waging all around me, I often thought of the words of Jesus in Luke 6:27-29: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”
I often thought about how this could be possible in a place where people were so murderously bent on killing each other. I’d never been in a war zone before. I couldn’t comprehend it and it was hard to see how Jesus’s words in Luke 6 could be embraced there. Nevertheless, that was Jesus’s radical command to his church. It’s something completely counterintuitive to our normal way of thinking: to love our enemies. These words are the healing power of the Gospel message for a world filled with pain and suffering.
The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
For me, this is the Gospel’s power in this world: that we are to be ambassadors of reconciliation where reconciliation seems the most impossible. Not just between each other in the church but between people everywhere.
I believe the world needs armies, just as every society needs a police force. Why? Because we live in a fallen world. In Romans 13:1-5 the Apostle Paul says, “for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.”
Nevertheless, because the world is a fallen place we, the church, are to be its light on a hill. We are to be a contrast as God’s coming Kingdom presence now, beaming out of us in the darkness of the world surrounding us. As Christians, more importantly, we are to be a light in the world, not a mirror of its darkness, not a mirror of its prejudices and hatreds. We are to be God’s ambassadors of reconciliation, showing how a world so bent on murdering each other can be shown how to love each other and even do the impossible in loving our enemies. We, the church, are called to do this. This is Christ’s command!
Yet the fact of the matter is, only Jesus can make this happen. Realistically, we can’t. Only Jesus can make this even remotely possible. Again, why? Because only a radical change of heart and way of thinking can accomplish it. And only Jesus can do this in people's hearts. As his followers we must bear his witness to accomplish this. We must live out his example, often sacrificially. We must live out his love and speak out his mercy and grace that we have experienced in our own lives in order to make a change in other people’s lives. Remember, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). We are the Gospel’s life-changing messengers of that faith.
Psalms 122:6 tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This is a prayer we must make for the whole world as well. For our neighbors, families, governments;the people at war in this world including Ukraine, Russia and throughout the Middle East. For the church needs to be living ambassadors of the City of Peace’s message to “love your enemies.” This is the only message that is powerful enough to change anything in this world. And this is Christ’s command.
About the Author
Rob Braun is a member of Bethel CRC in Princeton, Minn. He's been married for 47 years to his wife, Tammi, and has three adult children and two grandchildren. He's a semi-retired freelance writer and pastored an independent church for 15 years, former Hockey Coach and worked in retail for over 50 years.