Friday, 23 January 2009

Proportionality?

It took my daughter, who tells me she no longer believes in God, to pick up on the unthinking and unchristian words coming out of my mouth. I was deploring the death of ‘innocent civilians’ in Gaza. Of what possible relevance was their innocence to the value of their life? she enquired. How many in that literally bloody mess could possibly refrain from hatred of Israel, and the desire to break its iron grip? How many who were offered the chance to strike at Israel would resist the temptation, and how could peace ever be reached while we took this into consideration. Guilt and innocence are too often mere matters of chance in such a situation.

And she is right. The sight of children killed by adults is an outrage and a horror. That does not mean that there are clear divisions into guilty and innocent. The secular world likes the idea that some are guilty, some innocent, and it has responded to the outrage of Gaza with a concept of ‘proportionality’. Gaza is wrong because it is disproportionate. A disproportionate number of the innocent are suffering. No Christian believes themselves innocent. Each believes they must offer unconditional forgiveness to those who injure them, that they must forgive and rebuild relationships of all kinds on the knowledge of this guilt in themselves and others. Our faith offers a way out of conflict by accepting pain and allowing it to die with us, or rather to die in our God. We are committed to a path where we suffer and forgive, and leave justice to God. There is no proportionality in such a path. There is no proportionality in God’s love for us, either.

Proportionality ought to be a taboo word to those whose founder roundly condemned seeking an eye for an eye. Proportionality is another word for a childish desire for ‘tit for tat’. I am liable be told that this is high minded nonsense, and that in international situations we must lay to one side our faith and our ideals, and be practical. I make two answers.

The first is that ‘proportionality’ is doomed to failure. While extremists on either side can derail any possible peace process by a single act of outrageous violence, which is liable to create a proportionate response, there can never be peace. Peace can come only when one side, or better, both sides, can swallow outrage and not react to it.

The second, I make in the words of President Obama, in his inauguration speech. ‘We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.’ He is right. If our ideals are true, and if our faith is right, we cannot expect any other path to succeed. We Christians have to believe, and I write ‘have to’ advisedly, that Jesus’s core teaching is right for us, and for everybody. If this is God’s world, where we are to work his will, no other path will arrive at his destination. The only safety lies in our being prepared to offer his advice to others, and to live it ourselves.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah on Friday, 23 January 2009 at 7:13am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking
Comments

As I read this, by the time I got half way through the second paragraph, I was saying to myself, "Rosemary. It is surely Rosemary." I deliberately didn't scroll down but waited until I got to the end to see.

Thank you, Rosemary, this is right on the button. Thank you.

Posted by: RPNewark on Friday, 23 January 2009 at 9:27am GMT

I am strong supporter of Israel and have been since 1957. However, I completely agree with your post. Thank you for stating it so well.

Posted by: James on Friday, 23 January 2009 at 3:45pm GMT

Video Games don't help.

Posted by: David Green on Wednesday, 28 January 2009 at 8:28am GMT

I'm not sure all Christians have a notion that we should offer 'unconditional forgiveness' to all who have harmed or hurt us. I've always understood forgiveness to be a bridge that must be built from both sides across a divide.

If someone offers to forgive me when I am blind to the hurt I have done to them its likely to have a negative effect and widen the gap between us rather than heal it.

Similarly, if I offer forgiveness to someone who refuses to acknowledge their need of it then it proves fruitless.

This mirrors divine forgiveness, for God also offers us forgiveness which is conditional upon our acknowledgement that we have sinned and our subsequent repentance - if we are self-righteous and stiff-necked then the forgiveness God wants to give cannot take effect.

Sadly, in Gaza, there will be no bridges built, let alone crossings opened, until both sides are ready to turn from their violent ways. "All have sinned......" As a start there needs to be a turning away from the desire for revenge each time one side or the other commits an atrocity - but that's only the beginning of the road to free and full forgiveness.

Posted by: andrew holden on Saturday, 31 January 2009 at 7:38am GMT

"Similarly, if I offer forgiveness to someone who refuses to acknowledge their need of it then it proves fruitless."

I have known too many people who nurture a deep sense of having been wronged in the past and who end up bitter and unable to let go.

One very important element of offering forgiveness is that it frees us to move on. That aspect of it is never fruitless.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 31 January 2009 at 9:14am GMT

"I have known too many people who nurture a deep sense of having been wronged in the past and who end up bitter and unable to let go."

I agree wholeheartedly with that - but I think that giving up bitterness is, like refusing vengeance, only the beginning of our side of the work of forgiveness. To be complete it has to be built from both sides - given and received.

I read Eric Lomax's book "The Railway Man" several years ago dealing with how he met his former torturer from a Japanese prison camp. His torturer had been almost consumed by guilt and sought forgiveness for his crimes but equally Lomax had been trapped by anger and bitterness as a result of his treatment. It was both the giving and receiving of forgiveness when these two men met again which set them both free.

Posted by: andrew holden on Saturday, 31 January 2009 at 10:14am GMT
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