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.