12 Nov '10
American Evangelicals, Israel and the rest of the Middle East
For a number of years now I have had the privilege of travelling in the Middle East and working with believers and ministries in that region of the world. When I ask Arab Christian leaders how we can help them, one of the consistent answers relates to Israel. When American evangelicals give cart blanch support to Israel at the exclusion of caring about and serving our Christian Arab brothers and sisters - we send a message that God cares more about those in Israel than he does in the surrounding states of the Middle East.
Indeed, in our desire to support Israel’s right to exist (which many of us would have theological reasons for) we often overlook inequities, injustices and practices by Israel that negatively impact other people whom God loves. Israel’s government is not God’s government. In fact, much of it is highly secular with a strong bias against Christianity and Christians. There have been and continue to be injustices imposed by Israel on members of the Palestinian community whose rights (like for many Jews) have been violated, whose homes were taken without recompense and who long for a homeland as the Jews did.
Without getting into politics there are several convictions that ought to inform our attitude toward the Middle East, Arabs and Jews.
God loves all people equally. For God so loved the World that he sent His one and only Son ….. Politically, America faces a real threat from radical Islam. And, there are nations in the Middle East who would like to eradicate Israel (some not all). However, none of this changes God’s love for men and women from every tribe, every nation, and every language that will one day make up the crowd in heaven.
Whatever our political convictions, as Christians, we ought to be equally concerned for the salvation of Jews and Arabs. And our Arab brothers and sisters need to know that we love, value, cherish them as much as we do others. God is doing remarkable things in almost every country of the Middle East and there are many Christ followers who live under tremendous pressure and need the prayers and support of believers in the west.
It is fascinating how God describes the nations around Israel in Isaiah 19 – looking forward to the day when He returns. He uses the same language for them that He uses so often for Israel. “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day, Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance’ (Isaiah 19:23-25).”
If that is God’s heart for both Israel and its neighbors, we ought to have the same heart. And the same concern for the populations that make up Israel and its Arab neighbors. For all of the challenges for believers in these nations, God is up to something significant and many more Muslims are coming to Christ than we often hear of. In addition, believers in these countries are sharing their faith sometimes at the cost of their lives since they know that Jesus is the only way to the father.
My understanding of prophecy leads me to believe that God brought the Jews back to Israel. At the same time, I believe we must be even handed when responding to actions of the Israeli state or any state (including our own). If we expect justice and fairness from her Arab neighbors, we should expect them from her as well – and from our own government.
Most importantly, I want my fellow Christians in Arab nations to know that I value them, pray for the difficulties they face, want to support them in the spread of the gospel (as with believers in Israel) and that I will show no favoritism for God does not play favorites in salvation history and God has a heart for all people. Nor will I allow the politics of either Israel or her neighbors take away from my desire for all people to hear the good news of Jesus and for many to come to a saving knowledge of Him.
On that note, God needs some courageous churches, men and women who will get involved in the Arab world. Plenty of evangelicals are involved with Israel. My question is who will come alongside believers in the rest of the Middle East for the cause of the gospel? Those who are willing to take a trip to the Middle East quickly discover that God is up to something – and that they have much less to fear than they think they do. I invite you to pray for believers in the Middle East, and to consider engaging in some way there.