Our Comings and Goings Amidst Vulnerability and Danger by Greg Albrecht
I lift my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you – the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. – Psalm 121:1-8
Psalm 121 speaks to us of the inner peace God gives us in the midst of the fear and stress we face in so many parts of our lives. Pathetically, what is happening right now in the Middle East is interpreted by many within Christendom causing insecurity and fear which is definitely not the product of a Christ-centered life! The literalistic rhetoric driven by dispensational readings and understandings of the Bible, using alarmism to promote their views, produces sensationalism about the end of the world which causes terror (and one might say is a form of religious “terrorism”). Such a scenario of fear and anxiety is not the heart and core of Psalm 121.
The eyes of our world, from Cairo to London, from Jerusalem to Tehran, from Dallas to Berlin, from Moscow to Toronto, from Paris to Tokyo …. all eyes watched the unadulterated evil attack on civilians at the end of the first week of October, as murderous frenzy was unleashed on civilians in the sovereign state of Israel by “militants” from Gaza. Israel declared war following the mowing down of Israeli citizens (and according to reports, other nationalities, British, Europeans and Americans) the hostage-taking and unspeakable atrocities against innocents.
All eyes are on the Israeli response, taking center stage in the Middle East. It is an announced war of response to crazed terrorists, who are driven by maniacal contempt and loathing for Jews, starting yet another war in a long cycle of racial hatred and religious rage.
Previously, in the aftermath of the unprecedented bloodletting of September 11, 2001, many historians said the 21st century started on that date, when the murder and mayhem of terrorists rained down on the United States. But now, on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, another terrorist attack will presumably define the immediate geo-political future of the Middle East.
Written in poetic symbolism, Psalm 121 speaks of God’s help and watchfulness, the inner peace of our souls we are given by his grace. This majestic and comforting chapter is obviously not an ironclad guarantee that any Jew or Christian reading this Old Testament passage will never, then, since or now, be murdered or harmed, but rather it is a picture of pilgrims on a perilous journey. History as well as personal experience says that accidents, violence, hatred and war happen to all, by virtue of living on the face of this blood-soaked planet earth. For more, see Jesus’ comments in Luke 13:1-5 about the “breaking news” of a tragedy during his ministry. We will all die; Jew, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Buddhist and Hindu; black, white, yellow or brown, from one cause or another, at one age or another (Hebrews 9:27).
AND – never forget, God loves us ALL (John 3:16). Revenge and retaliation and violence and hatred is of this world, not of the kingdom of God. The gospel of Jesus speaks of praying for enemies, turning the other cheek and of forgiveness and reconciliation. A Christ-centered perspective on this outrageous massacre of innocents by Hamas terrorists is not pro-Jewish nor anti-Islam, it is pro-peace and anti-war and all of the suffering and heartache inflicted on participants and bystanders.
Let us underline the fact that 1) all violence and bloodshed is of and from mortal humans who live by revenge and hatred and 2) the kingdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not of this world, and is not consumed by religious and racist racism, but rather our focus as Christ followers is on the peace of God. I am personally heart-broken and torn apart with grief as I have made, during multiple visits to Israel, the West bank, and several other Middle Eastern countries, many friends who are on opposite sides of what is now transpiring. Some still live in the Middle East, some now live in Europe and the United States. One is a medical professional who has served me for more than two decades, yet another is a neighbor.
As we follow Christ, we grow and mature in him by the grace of God, because Christ is our risen Lord and lives within him. After his illegal seizure and arrest, after a kangaroo court found the perfect and unblemished Lamb of God worthy of death, following his ruthless torture he was impaled on his cross, and at that point he said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Jesus, God in the flesh, knew what a mob mentality driven by religious animus can produce, and he knew that the divine response, the only response that would lead to peace was forgiveness.
Forgiveness means, among other things, the willingness to suspend revenge and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-39). Forgiveness is a rare response by individuals and even more rare among the kingdoms of this world – perhaps on a national scale, as we live lives drenched by our own imperfections, lusts, greed and hatreds, and as nations seek to defend themselves and their citizens, forgiveness “does not work” in the kingdoms of this world unless they decide to submit to physical annihilation. That, however, is not my topic – nor certainly my expertise.
Our world is filled with cries for “justice” which usually mean a desire to see those deemed culpable of malice receive punishment. It’s a fruitless exercise because once overwhelmingly evil events have transpired no “justice” can resurrect the lives of those killed nor restore the emotional stability of parents whose children were slaughtered. There is no “justice” in this world for women who have been raped or those who are maimed and crippled by terrorism, or warfare for that matter. Psalm 121 does not speak to remuneration for those wronged, or retributive justice, it speaks of the miraculous gift of God of inner peace, in spite of such evils.
The kingdom of God has a response to such massacres as just happened, and to the raging war of revenge and ongoing bitter antagonisms that will follow. The kingdom of God is all about forgiveness, reconciliation, love, mercy, grace and peace.
That said, the Bible speaks clearly of the crucifixion of Jesus, who while he allowed it and poured out his love in the midst of it, did not deny the horrific and vile venom of humans poured out on him. Thus, we as Christ-followers seek to avoid those who would persuade us that “one side” is better or more justified than another, and even, as some do, mitigate and diminish the evil that has transpired.
“Then [as we become more mature in Christ] we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14)
During the Vietnam War the United States started to use euphemisms to soften the harsh reality of its own casualties and the murder and mayhem being inflicted on North Vietnam. Incursions rather than invasion, a conflict rather than a war, peacekeepers rather than soldiers, body counts rather than numbers of deaths, wounded rather than crippled and maimed, surgical strikes rather than carpet bombing, and collateral damage of civilians, rather than the torture, rape and murder of innocents. Euphemisms for war were not invented then, but over the past 60-70 years efforts, not only in the language of war, but in many, if not most parts of the cultures in our world, have attempted to remove culpability, downplay aggression and shift blame to others – we are left with shifting sand of terminology based on political ideology, terms which are imprecise and loaded with baggage.
So please, let us not dignify the Isis-like Hamas butchers who methodically machine-gunned unarmed people at a music festival by calling them “militants” – murder is murder, terrorism is terrorism – these criminal thugs were not attacking other soldiers but old and young, unprepared and unarmed. Speaking of these Hamas-Isis-like terrorists, at least one North American media outlet reportedly instructed its reporters to use the term “militants” and avoid using the more odious and distasteful, but correct term, “terrorist.”
This outrageous evil is reminiscent of tactics the Nazis used during the Holocaust to exterminate and drive fear into the hearts of Jews. The “incursion” of “militants” into Israel resulting in the savagery we have seen was not terrorism??? Really??? What, pray tell, does it take for actions to be defined as terrorism? Where is the tipping point? When did Hitler’s Holocaust become the Holocaust? This holocaust just might be the beginning of the 21st century in the Middle East for it is the single largest one-time event of the loss of Jewish lives since Hitler’s Holocaust.
The Hamas butchers are and were terrorists. Sadly, the citizens of Gaza who did not participate in this fury of hatred unleashed by the radical Hamas will no doubt suffer as Israel takes revenge. The majority of the residents in Gaza are not members of Hamas, even if they sympathize with its motives. But they will suffer because of the actions of Hamas, reportedly supported and encouraged by Iran.
Let us be clear and logically speak of definitions of terms. The Jewish soldiers (Israeli army) who retaliate will send warnings. There will be time for citizens of Gaza to seek protection. The Israeli army will be in uniform and their object will be to destroy Hamas, not brutalize civilians and innocents. They, one hopes, will not kidnap civilians, taking them hostage, torturing them and keeping them in tunnels in another country. What Israel will do is within generally accepted conventions of warfare (as horrific as it is) so do not be deceived – held to a higher standard by their democratic country, the world at large, including its media, the actions of the Israeli army will not be the moral equivalent of the bloodthirsty brutalities of Hamas.
Sadly, as revenge is taken it will be yet another endless story of violence in this world. The tried and extremely untrue maxim of “an eye for an eye” leaves everyone blind. Sadly, there are many morally blind people in our world today, arriving at such a place via propaganda, lies and vicious hatred. We have just witnessed it – Hamas terrorists with no shame. War is never virtuous – no war is just and fair.
In its original setting this Psalm speaks of Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem, climbing upwards in elevation, traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate holy days. Ironically, it was on a Jewish holy day when the diabolical, evil, inhumane and carefully coordinated savagery in cold blood of Hamas exploded in a murderous frenzy.
The comforting word picture in Psalm 121 is of climbing, moving forward. The original setting might include the return of exiles from Babylon, a city, place, empire, religious and power the Bible constantly links as representative of all evil that stands against God. The pilgrims were walking away from Babylon and toward God, with each step. We too, as Christ-followers, do the same, by the grace of God.
The Psalm assures us we are on a journey to a better place. We are homeward bound. This world, any part of it, is not our final destination. No nation or religion, no political party nor church denomination is our home – our home is with the Lord, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). Let us move away from nationalism, bias, desire for revenge and militarism toward the grace, mercy, love and peace of God.
We are aliens and strangers on this earth. We are following Christ to a better place. As Christ followers we do not engage in vengeance and revenge. Our path is toward another place. Jesus told Pilate, telling him why his disciples did not fight to prevent his arrest, “my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). We live for Christ, as he lives in us in a world of darkness and peril. We are blessed by God’s grace, enabled to reflect the Light of Jesus to a war-torn world of sorrow, hatred, animosity and hopelessness.
As we walk through the valleys of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) this 121st Psalm assures us, using the poetic and literary device of Hebrew parallelism, … “The LORD will watch over your coming and going.” God will watch over everything in our lives. Jesus will not ensure we never experience storms, heartaches, violence, disease or grief. Jesus does not promise to protect us from all the perils and dangers of life, but he does promise to be with us during all of the perils and dangers we encounter during our walk, carrying our cross and following him. Jesus will be with us during Our Comings and Goings Amidst Vulnerability and Danger.
Meanwhile, we hope, we pray and we look forward to the shalom of God extending all over this earth, when weapons of warfare will no longer exist, when the peace of God will be as real as the air we breathe and the water we drink. Come Lord Jesus, Come!