I live in a multicolored world that is filmed in black-and-white. One is usually either ‘for’ or ‘against’ something, with little desire to envision the complexities of life. Humanity desires simplistic answers and quick solutions to some of the most vexing societal issues: homelessness, abortion, homosexuality, national borders, and gun violence. It is as if our brains are permanently divided and only able to function on one side at a time. We read or watch the news and instantly take sides. Perhaps our brains just don’t want to deal with life’s complications because it takes too much time and concentration. It is much easier to be black or white in a multicolored world.
Since October 7th, when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched a major attack from the Gaza Strip into Israel and killed 1,405 Israelis, the world has become even more divided. Arab supporters condemned Israel’s Palestinian policy while Jewish supporters want the Palestinian perpetrators to be brought to swift justice. Each day brings more scenes of suffering on both sides: children crushed under bombed structures, people mourning the dead, innocent civilians mutilated, and bloody bodies wrapped in burial shrouds. Both sides of this dividing line suffer with no solution being offered except retribution and hatred.
I have never been to the Gaza Strip but traveled to Israel and Jordan last January as a member of my seminary’s travel group. It was a mixed Jewish-Christian tour led by the former seminary Dean of the Faculty and a conservative Rabbi who teaches at the seminary. I was fortunate to know both leaders and studied Judaism under the Rabbi. I joined the group to see the Holy Land from a Jewish perspective. I especially wanted to understand the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Christians and Jews have historically been black-and-white towards each other. Thankfully, there was no dividing line during this trip.
We traveled inside a bullet proof bus to the West Bank city of Hebron. Hebron is a cramped city composed of stacked concrete structures that appeared to be crudely constructed. We witnessed Israeli guard stations housed with young adults who were tasked to keep the peace, an impossible mission. They were awaiting the next act of violence. I felt tense because it appeared unsafe. I witnessed our Jewish bus driver assault a Palestinian young man who was trying to sell his wares to tourists. You could see and feel the hatred between these two men who did not know each other. I asked myself, “What will it take for these two men, a Palestinian and a Jew, to respect each other?” I had no solution.
We stopped at another West Bank area, Gush Etzion, which serves as a community center for Shorashim (Roots), a non-profit organization that seeks mutual reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians. It is not a political organization and takes no sides. Its goal is mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. We listened to both a New York City Rabbi and a West Bank Palestinian tell their stories that led to their involvement. Seeing the ‘other’ as human leads to mutual trust. Currently, only a small minority of the Israel population see the ‘other’ as human. Since October 7th, the dividing line has grown further apart.
What is hard for many people to comprehend is that all humans are neither “good” nor “bad.” We carry both within our complex bodies. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), the Russian author of The Gulag Archipelago, stated: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” The theologian John Calvin (1509–1564), wrote that humans were totally corrupt and must rely only on the grace of God. The Methodist preacher, John Wesley (1703–1791), was a bit kinder. He believed that humans had just enough goodness to accept God’s prevenient grace. Only when an individual can see themself and the ‘other’ as persons in need of God’s grace can the dividing line be breached. Instead of a dividing line, there is community.
All persons who commit evil acts start out life as a helpless baby in need of love, food, warmth, and compassion. God loves all equally, although God does not love our sinful actions. All are flawed in various ways. All need grace. Humans are neither fully evil nor fully good. They are complex individuals and should not be painted as purely evil villains or raised up in hero worship. We should celebrate our goodwill and denounce our selfishness. We are messy people in need of God’s grace.
As our group toured Israel together, I reflected on two Jews: King David and the Apostle Paul. King David did acts of heroism and united the Hebrew tribes into a great nation. He also used his power to commit adultery and sent a honorable husband to be killed in battle. The Apostle Paul persecuted early followers of Christ, and then became a martyr for Christ. Both were messy, imperfect, and complex leaders. Both cried out to God for forgiveness. Both accomplished some amazing feats.
American philosopher Susan Neiman (b. 1955), in a Financial Times interview, stated: “I hate the words pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. I’m pro-peace.” I complement her for seeing through the complex haze towards the Kingdom. This is the endpoint. How one moves from our current black-and-white division to the Kingdom is beyond me at this point. That is why I seek guidance from a source far greater than our divided humanity.