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Pray for Israel and do not be ashamed to say you do
With insights from a Psalm, a philosopher and a Holocaust survivor to point the way
Like me, you may have watched in horror over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, as Hamas terrorists attacked women, children, men, the elderly and families across Israel. The scenes that filled news feeds were terrifying, abhorrent.
Like my heart, your heart may have torn.
I’d prefer to not write the following words—that the terrorists beheaded children, murdered peaceful families, gang raped women, paraded the bodies of the dead and of hostages in the streets. But it’s important to acknowledge and name what happened.
These were sickening acts of terror. Crimes against humanity. Acts of abject evil.
My prayers go up, and went up all weekend. I raise up prayers like Psalm 42 in the sleepless hours of the night for the Jewish people, especially the victims and the families of those caught in what the Israeli government has described as Israel’s 9/11.
Rather than offer prayers or name the indisputable acts of terror, some were quick to blame the victims. And for some Christians it is controversial to even say the words, “pray for Israel.”
I felt it of crucial importance this week to simply say here on my platform that I am praying for Israel. And I want to encourage other people of faith and goodwill that it’s right and good to do the same.
A signal from scripture
Beyond the fact that anyone, anywhere so violently attacked deserves, at a minimum, our prayers, whether you like it or not, Israel is special and beloved by God.
Set apart in history (and not in exclusion of others), Israel is an ongoing reminder of the goodness of God and his faithfulness in the world. And a reminder of what’s at stake for humanity as evil aims to destroy what God set apart for his purposes.
God calls Abraham into a special covenant and choreographs the miraculous future of the father of Israel in Genesis 12: 1-3:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
I take those words to heart and take them seriously. There are voices, however, saying that prayers for Israel are problematic.
As details of the unfolding situation emerged on X (formerly Twitter) and doom-scrolling pundits, both of the professional and armchair variety, ranted and analyzed, I was reminded of the following insight from Bernard-Henri Lévy’s The Genius of Judaism on competitive victimhood which he defines as:
The new and very strange idea that there may not be enough room for all of the world’s victims under the dark sun of mourning and remembrance. The new and imbecilic assumption that a single head may not be spacious enough to accommodate two separate afflictions.
And the inevitable and pernicious conclusion that a good soul might have to choose between the Jews and the non-Jews; between the Holocaust and the transatlantic slave trade, the massacre of the American Indians, Timor, the forgotten wars of Africa or Asia; between the exceptional and over-memorialized suffering of yesterday and the less cataclysmic but, alas, more pressing sufferings that are the live, horrifying reality of today….1
Two things can be true at once.
Pray for Israel. And pray for Palestine. Pray for Adam and pray for Edom. Pray for peace and freedom everywhere. Pray that everywhere injustice, terror and evil cease.
But do pray for Israel and do not be ashamed to say you do.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
~ Psalm 122: 6-9
These are despairing times.
It feels as though the world again, overnight, has changed. And the textbook horrors we learned about anti-Semitism are clearly and undeniably walking among us openly today. The celebration of once-so-clear evils taking place in Canadian Parliament on the eve of this massacre and the solidarity with the acts shown after it on the streets of cities like Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, on campuses at once-great institutions like Harvard and in unions here and abroad should trouble us all.
But “there is a story of despair that does not end in despair.”
These are words of profound meaning to me, announced by Eli Wiesel the Holocaust survivor, who had a terrifying encounter with despair in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.
I’m reminded of this quote as we all look on this volatile situation with despair.
I heard the presentation he gave to a group of Canadian law makers at a conference focused on justice years ago in Calgary. And I think they are words worth remembering today.
Evil, however unimaginable and horrific, does not and will not win, wherever and however it appears.
May we accelerate its defeat, in part, through our prayers.