President Trump’s first foreign trip includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican, an itinerary no other President has endeavored. Trump addressed the leaders of about 50 Muslim nations while in Saudi Arabia. While in the Holy Land, he met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Now trump is in Vatican City meeting with Pope Francis. Clearly Trump is hoping to facilitate what would be the biggest deal of his life—a peace deal. While Trump’s desire to facilitate peace talks are certainly admirable, I cannot help but wonder how successful he can be if forgiveness is not at the forefront of the discussion. Trump mentioned the need for concessions but there was no mention of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful force for both those who extend it and receive it.
During the 5th Crusade St. Francis undertook what most considered a senseless and foolhardy mission: convert the most powerful Muslim in the world. So radical was the Sultan he had promised a Byzantine gold piece for anyone who brought the head of a Christian. He was “treacherous, brainless and false hearted,” but where others saw the face of evil, Francis saw a man without the Savior and compassion welled up inside of him.
As Francis and his trusted friend Illumimato walked onto the battlefield, they were caught, beaten and brought to the Sultan who was happy because he thought they wanted to become Muslims. “On the contrary,” said Francis, “We have a message that you should surrender your soul to God.” Thus he proclaimed the Triune God and Jesus Christ the Savior of all. The Sultan did not convert for it was he who retook Jerusalem. By God’s grace St. Francis was not killed but that possibility did not deter him.
In these perilous times, when radical Islam is carrying out horrific acts of violence, Christians must reach out to Muslims with courage and compassion. We must understand their concerns and engage with them in witness. Most Muslims wake up with no church, no Bible, and no one to tell them about the Way, the Truth and the Life. Five times a day from countless minarets in their midst, they hear God is great, but who will tell them God is love?
The promises given to Abraham and all the prophecies in the OT have to be interpreted in the light of the coming of the kingdom of God in Jesus. The OT must therefore be read through the spectacles, the glasses, of the NT. Because OT promises and prophecies (including those about the land and about biblical Israel) have been fulfilled in the coming of the kingdom in Jesus, the return of Jews to the land and the establishment of the state of Israel have taken place under the sovereignty of God, but have no special theological significance. They are not to be seen as signs pointing forward to the Second Coming. All believers in Jesus inherit all the promises made the Abraham. They are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9; Gal 3:26-29) and enjoy their spiritual inheritance which is ‘kept in heaven’ (1 Peter 1:4; Heb 4; 12:18-24).
If this is the starting point, let me try to elaborate on this approach in the following ten stages…
Western support for the state of Israel has often been unquestioning; and Christians (especially evangelical Christians, and especially in the USA) have played a highly significant role in strengthening this instinctive sympathy for Israel. This support for Israel, however, combined with all the different policies of Western powers linked with it in recent years (including the war in Iraq) is probably at the top of the list of grievances that have fueled the anger of Arabs and Muslims in recent years. I might even go as far as to suggest that if the West after 1967 had dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a more even-handed way and pressed both sides hard and consistently towards a peaceful resolution on the basis of international law, 9/11 might never have happened.