The Jewish holiday Simchat Torah began when the sun went down last Saturday, October 7. The holiday’s name translates as “Joy in The Book of God’s Law.” The Torah, consisting of the first five books of the Old Testament in our Bible, is considered to be the sacred Word of God by Jews, Christians and Muslims. That’s why the three religions are sometimes described as “The Peoples of The Book.” You’d think that would bind them together, but actually, zealots from all three religions have been hating and cursing each other for hundreds of years. 

Ironically, the most recent episode began on the holiday set aside to celebrate the joy we can all experience if we embrace the deepest truths of the Torah. On Saturday morning, we were all confronted with news of the large-scale surprise attack, and it has been bombarding us ever since. I think we who live in the United States may have initially responded with a HO-HUM because we’ve been immunized by the frequent reports of shootings in our own cities across the country. But pretty soon we realized this was something different, something that could change the course of world history. Our HO-HUM soon turned into SHOCK and ANGER.

It’s amazing how quickly the views expressed in news media and social media turned into a need to BLAME someone. The first and most obvious blame targets were the terrorists who took part in the vicious attacks, slaughtering innocent young people at an outdoor concert, depopulating nearby towns and villages, raping women, killing babies and taking hostages. But then, it wasn’t long before someone blamed the Israeli government for not coming to a lasting peace agreement, for treating Palestinians as second-class citizens and for extending settlements in areas where Palestinians are supposed to live. Of course, there were plenty of individual blame targets: Israel’s Defense Minister, Mossad, the renowned Israeli secret service, Prime Minister Netanyahu, even President Biden.  

How should Israel respond? The United Nations? The USA? I’ve heard several answers to the question, beginning with REVENGE, or some form of REVENGE PLUS! Some people are working on PREVENTION: improving Israeli’s intelligence plan and defense system. The most important response would be to work toward realistic, lasting RESOLUTION of the Middle East tensions, especially in Israel/Palestine, but I haven’t heard anyone talking about this in the heat of raw emotions.  

Finally, how should Christians respond? Here’s my two cents. First, FEEL what the people of Israel and Palestine are feeling. Sincerely empathize. Suffer with them before you begin to say anything. Don’t try to EXPLAIN or give ADVICE from your position of superior Christian knowledge. Especially, don’t quote Bible PROPHECY. I’ve already seen some YouTube videos connecting this weekend’s events as the beginning of end-times prophecies. Please ignore them. Most Christian prophetic teachings about Israel’s future are just plain speculation, and they add confusion to an already complex situation. 

Finally, as a Christian, you belong to that part of “The Peoples of The Book” that also believes in another Book, the New Testament, so you have the added insight from Jesus. What you can bring into the mix is his EMPATHY, his LOVE and his HOPE.  

A Scripture that came to my mind is:

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering?” (Lam. 1:12) 

Sounds like Jesus on the Cross! But actually, it’s from a passage in the Old Testament Book of Lamentations, and it’s the Prophet Jeremiah’s expression of an anguished cry from the personified City of Jerusalem as it lays in ruins after a vicious Babylonian onslaught. If you read the whole chapter, you’ll feel waves and waves of sorrow and depression, before you, surprisingly, encounter renewed HOPE (the City of Jerusalem is still speaking.)

I remember my affliction and my wandering
the bitterness and the gall.
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. Lam. 3:19-26

– – Pastor George Van Alstine