By now, we are all familiar with the sad and bloody events that have unfolded over the last two weeks in Israel. Israel’s necessary response to the terrorist attack by Hamas has already led to brutal rocket strikes, loss of life, and mass relocation of civilians in Gaza.
One of the phrases that keeps popping up in the mainstream media is that Israel’s response must be “proportionate” to the damages inflicted by Hamas. I struggle to fathom what that means. Does it mean keeping an exact tally, or “death scoreboard” so we can keep watch over whose actions have been the worst? Whose numbers and reporting would we trust?
And beyond that, what is a “proportional” or fitting response to the worst of the atrocities of October 7? How many innocent Palestinian lives taken would equal the hundreds of Israeli hostages abducted, rapes perpetrated, and infants killed in cold blood? Is death by rocket strike proportional? And what about the one million Palestinians that have now had to flee their homes? What does that equate to on the other side of the border?
The “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle has existed as a justice code for nearly 4,000 years. It’s even in the Old Testament (OT) in Leviticus 24, “Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.” This mode of justice extends all the way to the death penalty for individuals who take the lives of their neighbors in the OT.
While the proportional “eye for an eye” principle still animates our modern judicial system when it comes to individual crimes, the complexity of social problems from food inequality all the way up to warfare are too great for the principle to bear. Mahatma Gandhi once wisely put it, “An eye for an eye soon leaves the whole world blind.” Yes. True. Many of us feel the possibility of sudden onset civilizational macular degeneration.
Gandhi was wise in saying this, but not as wise as Jesus who went a step further in the Gospel of Matthew 5:38, 39: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Jesus is speaking on a personal, individual, ethical level. Might it be possible for a group (Israel and the USA!) to find a way to embody this ethic? One small idea currently being floated by military strategists: While trying to root the terrorists of Hamas from the midst of their embeddedness with the civilian population of Gaza, what if Israel did all in its power to lead with humanitarian efforts to support the innocent majority of the Palestinian population?
Finally, I’m struck by how “unproportional” the Gospel is. God did not give as he received.
He has taken the violence of our sin and rebellion and given us Jesus. What a reckless and prodigal thing to do! And yet, God’s alternative form of justice has made all the difference. And that is why we rightly long for the day when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever.
Lord, haste the day
– Pastor Gregg