Almost everyone who believes in any way in prayer is praying for an end to fighting in the Middle East, especially about the renewed, undeclared war between Israel and Hezbollah.
The prayers aren't all the same. Warfare draws up sides more quickly than any other kind of human endeavor, and the principal combatants usually exude confidence that God is on their side. The way people think about such things, at least in the Western world, actually rises out of the ancient Middle East and its faith traditions, and it continues today in various manifestations – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druse, and others. (The Druse are a distinct religious people rising out of Islam and to some degree, Christianity, and the Greek philosophers. It is concentrated in Lebanon.)
All these religions have a “God” stake in what happens in the Middle East in all its tormented scenarios.
Many scholars of all the religious streams involved could go on to infinity about why their particular views are correct, and many would never try to see any of the good commonalities of their backgrounds rising in the same part of the world and holding fast to monotheism: One God, no others.
War always exposes humanity at its worst, especially when religion becomes a principal factor in the waging of it.
Frederick Buechner, a Christian preacher who has written eloquently in dozens of books about faith matters, preached a sermon entitled “Faith,” and he draws his biblical text from the passage in Hebrews 11 in the New Testament that talks about the faith of biblical heroes.
“These all died in faith,” the biblical writer says, “not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear they are seeking a homeland.”
The Letter to Hebrews is strictly Christian in context, but those sentences about exiles, strangers and seeking homeland have a certain resonance in the context of this summer's war.
From all sides, it is really about homeland, and peace. The fallacy from all sides is that too many see peace only through their eyes and experience, when it really is a commonly held vision.
Buechner wrote, “The world and all of us in it are half in love with our own destruction, and thus mad. The world and all of us in it are hungry to devour each other and ourselves and thus lost.
” … But every once in a while in the world, and every once in a while in ourselves, there is something else …. there are places and times, inner ones and outer ones, where something like peace happens, love happens, light happens … And when they happen, we should hold on to them for dear life. They are whispers and glimpses from afar: that peace, light, love are where life ultimately comes from, that deeper down than madness and lostness they are at heart what life is. By faith we know this, and I think only by faith, because there is no other way to know it.”
Perhaps what should be grasped in the Middle East is not the obvious but the fleeting and only occasionally clear – when and where, it is hoped and prayed, the God of peace, not a god of any partisan cause, has the final word.
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