Of course, Jordan and Egypt signed treaties with Israel after the Camp David Accords of 1978, and there has been an uneasy peace ever since. Yet deep hatred for Israel remains within these countries and their neighbors. Iran’s rulers have declared their determination to destroy Israel. Israel has been attacked by her neighbors every few years in its brief, 70-year existence as a modern state. Hazony says this is why Jews must always be prepared for war.
But he also points to a helpful Jewish distinction between impurity and immorality. Politics and war are both dirty. Each is necessary, usually in every generation, because of the messy business of life and the phenomenon of radical evil. To participate in either is required of some Jews (and, I would add, of some Christians). But those involved feel soiled, even when they try to do the right thing. Difficult choices are sometimes required between two bad things, one worse than the other.
Christians in those cases often think they have committed sin because of the (less) bad choices they had to make. But Hazony offers a solution from the Jewish tradition: purification, not just atonement. Only sins need to be atoned. But impurities can be purified through religious ritual. When life’s necessities make us feel dirty, it is not necessarily time to confess sin. Instead, we might need religious cleansing of what has rendered us impure. For Christians, cleansing can come by baring one’s soul to a spiritual director or a trusted friend. As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Eph. 5:13).
God Is Calling
As a Christian, I question some of Hazony’s conclusions, such as his generalization that God’s action always emerges from human choices and nature’s laws. What about God’s creation of the cosmos? Or Moses’s burning bush? Or the sun standing still when Joshua was fighting the Amorites (Josh. 10:12–13)?
And what of Hazony’s suggestion that God’s ultimate purposes can be delayed by human passivity? This would seem to imply that God’s will is sometimes frustrated. Yet Psalm 2 claims that God laughs as the kings of the earth plot against the Lord’s anointed people. He is neither threatened nor frustrated.
But of course I am a Gentile whose Christian community was not reduced by six million in just a few years. I did not have family members incinerated while millions of people did nothing to stop the Holocaust, despite God’s challenge.
Today, as ISIS and Boko Haram rampage, Christians are starting to ask Hazony’s questions. What if God calls and too few listen—and genocide ensues?
In the meantime, Hazony can help us answer the questions with which we started. God is calling men and women to speak up and not be passive. He might seem hidden, but he is calling his people, in ways often invisible to outsiders, to act. And yes, he might be calling governments to use force to stop radical evil.
Gerald McDermott is Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. He is the editor of a forthcoming book, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (IVP Academic).