Every year at this time, my social media feeds and television channels become flooded with Halloween-themed content. But given the real-world horrors unfolding globally, it’s challenging to find anything imaginary truly frightening by comparison. Interestingly, some evangelicals in the United States continue to engage in the culture wars by criticizing the spooky season through memes, all the while dismissing real-world atrocities that don’t neatly align with their agenda.
The world is complex and multifaceted, but political, cultural, and social agendas often attempt to pigeonhole us into a simplistic binary framework. For instance, the recent escalation of conflict between Israel and Palestinians highlights the cruelty of our world. Yet, within moments of these events, my social media feeds are filled with calls to “Stand with Israel” without much consideration for the underlying causes of this seemingly endless violence. While it should be straightforward for Christians to denounce violence leading to the deaths of civilians and endorsing acts of terror like kidnapping, rape, and murder, seeking to understand the roots of this violence is often met with condemnation. It’s crucial to distinguish explanations from justifications.
Among U.S. evangelicals, the effort to comprehend these global issues is further complicated by prevalent Christian doctrines like dispensational theology. This perspective, widely accepted, makes it challenging to address events in the Middle East without being misunderstood. Nevertheless, it is precisely these issues where we need informed Christian voices advocating for peace instead of blindly endorsing conflict. Unfortunately, many evangelicals are unwilling to entertain any position that might derail their belief that these events hasten an apocalyptic scenario.
This particular interpretation of Bible prophecy, end-time events, and the return of Jesus is closely tied to the happenings in the Middle East, especially in Israel. However, much of what is taught about this is not entirely accurate. Dispensationalism, a systematic theology that gained popularity in the mid-19th century, was first promoted by John Nelson Darby and popularized through the Scofield Study Bible and Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” book series. Although widely accepted and influential, viewing both Scripture and policy through this lens poses several problems. One of the main problems is that it mobilizes a religious and political base that embraces apocalyptic beliefs, which can hinder the Middle East peace process and the spread of Christ’s gospel.
While Psalm 122:6 encourages us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” this verse shouldn’t be taken as unequivocal support for Israel. While I believe it’s essential for the United States to support Israel strategically to maintain a balance of power in the Middle East, my support doesn’t condone injustices against Palestinians or acts of terrorism against Israel.
It’s vital to remember that we are primarily New Testament Christians, not Old Testament Jews. We must interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New, which affirms that the promises to Abraham have been fulfilled in Christ and apply to God’s people, collectively known as the Church. Paul articulates this in Romans 1-3, emphasizing that both Gentile pagans and Jewish believers require the gospel of Christ. Jewish people have an advantage due to their foundational understanding of God, but this advantage doesn’t grant them special privileges after Christ’s advent. Even Jesus lamented that Jerusalem did not recognize the timing of His coming (Luke 19:44).
Further, Dispensationalism teaches two distinct plans for two distinct groups – the Jewish State and the Christian Church. However, a careful examination of Scripture reveals one people of God throughout history, comprising both Jews and Gentiles, finding its fulfillment in the Church. Ephesians 2:11-22, for instance, emphasizes that both Jews and Gentiles are part of this unified body, the Church. Jesus also underscores this unity in John 15, referring to one “True vine,” and Paul elaborates on this in Romans 11:11-31, explaining that pagan Gentiles have been grafted into this singular vine. It’s crucial to remember that even in the Old Testament, God worked through many Gentiles, such as Rahab and Naaman. The Jewish Nation served as a testament and a means for God to deliver the gospel to the world, but it was not limited to the Jewish nation alone, even in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 3:8, God issued Israel a decree of divorce due to their continual rejection of Him. God hasn’t stood with Israel in every instance.
An argument often made is that “the land belongs to Israel.” But if this is still the case, which borders should America support? The original borders promised to Abraham or the current national borders of the State of Israel? This interpretation disregards how the Old Testament writers themselves understood the promises made to Abraham. The writer of the book of Joshua makes it clear that the covenant promises had already been fulfilled by his generation (Josh. 21:43–45). If, as Christian pastor and teacher John Hagee suggests, “God has given Jerusalem only to the Jews,” does this mean that the displacement of Arabs, many of whom are Christian brethren and sisters, is justified? I believe not. Our salvation as Christians is in Christ, and our hope is in His return, not in the actions of human governments, and politicians, and certainly not in terrorist organizations.
These eschatological views depict a god more akin to Jason of “Friday the 13th” fame than to Jesus. The “Friday the 13th” movies and similar genres often tell tales of vengeance, where the killer, usually motivated by past trauma, targets those engaged in debauchery, often teenagers. The hero is often depicted as a morally upright character who rejects such behavior. Think about the depiction of Laurie Strode played by Jamie Lee Curtis in John Carpenter’s Halloween, and how she differed from the depiction of the other teens in the film. These slasher films essentially recycle morality tales influenced by Judeo-Christian values and Victorian-era tendencies in the United States. In these movies, the virtuous people typically survive, while the wrongdoers meet gruesome ends, with the monster serving as a tool of morality.
But Jesus should not be confused with Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Jesus taught that His followers should be recognized for their love and compassion, even toward their enemies, not for taking lives. Passages that seem to conflict with this view of Jesus, such as apocalyptic writings in the Old Testament, imprecatory Psalms, or the book of Revelation, need to be understood in light of His famous words in the Sermon on the Mount, where He challenged the prevailing notion of retribution by proclaiming, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, love your enemies.”
According to Jesus, love is more potent than the most horrific atrocities committed in the name of revenge. This love should be the disposition of every follower of Jesus in a world filled with fear and violence. Christians should always seek peace and never applaud war.