I’ve always had a theological problem with the existence of the modern state of Israel. It’s taken President Donald Trump, then the GOP candidate, to understand why.
More accurately, his slogan “Make America Great Again.”
About a century before Jesus came on the scene, what was left of Israel entered into a phase of “super-patriotism.” It had repelled the Greeks, who had tried to overrun it (resulting in the celebration of Hanukkah) but later on failed to deter the Romans, who became the great political power in His day and whom Israel deeply resented. Gradually the centuries-old prophecy of a Messiah was linked to the one person who would eject Rome and, shall we say, “make Israel great again.”
The trouble was that there was still a demand for ethnic purity among the Jewish people of that day. Samaritans, who lived to the north, were seen as compromisers for abandoning parts of the faith and intermarrying with Gentiles. Of course Jesus, considered the “super-rabbi,” scandalized much of the nation by, among other things, touching dead people and bringing them back to life and, in one case, going right through Samaria, which good Jews didn’t do (and encountering the “immoral” Samaritan woman).
We know today that Jesus’ focus was the Kingdom of God, which not even His disciples got; even after His resurrection, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ ” (Acts 1:6). To which He responded, in effect, “Never mind.”
I take two lessons from this.
One, no nation can become “great” in marginalizing those who come from a different viewpoint or have a different history. The president has exploited long-standing divisions and pitted people against each other to get elected, confounding even those in his own party, and modern Israel has long been accused of discrimination against the Arabs in its midst. (That subject is too long for this post.)
More importantly, if we believe that “making America great again” represents a Christian worldview we’re fooling ourselves — indeed, it’s a form of idolatry. To wit, the idea that ending abortion, driving gays back into the closet and other things deemed “biblical” can and will lead to God’s blessing approaches heresy because the focus is on us, not God.
So let’s call it what it is.