Close this search box.

Reflections: Helpless in the Face of Suffering

By Canon Chris Palmer

The attention of the world is on Gaza and Israel following the terrible violence, kidnapping, suffering, and loss of life in recent days. At the moment I’m writing, we’re just a day after the destruction of the Al Ahli Anglican Hospital in Gaza, run by the Anglican Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, in which a large number of people were killed.

Our feelings in the context of this situation include sorrow, anger, incredulity, and hopelessness. The ecumenical group of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, which includes Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran church leaders has issued a statement of solidarity with the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem, condemnation of this violence, and sorrow in the face of such terrible suffering.

Our Canon Theologian, Canon Morwenna Ludlow, said at the morning Eucharist the day after this tragedy that truth is often the first casualty of war. And in this case, this has been witnessed in the claims and counterclaims of who is responsible for these deaths – Palestinian and Israeli leaders each blaming the other side.

The emotion and anger of the Heads of Churches statement witnesses to a deep sense of helplessness. They – and we – naturally want to put it right, for people to live in safety and peace in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, for people to live with dignity and justice, for communities with ancient rivalries to learn to live together. But they – and we – have no power to achieve this.

And something more: in the face of the deeply entrenched enmity, suspicion, and hatred in the region, these desires for peace also feel naïve. They seem to be an unrealistic response to the gravity and extremity of the situation, to the scale of suffering, to the entrenched animosity of the different communities, and to the failure of previous peace initiatives.

But what is the alternative to this naivity? That we give up on longing and praying for peace and justice? I dare to think that justice and peace are also God’s desire for the people of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

So, maybe in such a situation of powerlessness, naivity is the only option. The alternative is cynicism, or resignation to violence, or simply being part of the problem.

            God of peace,
            we cry to you with longing hearts for peace in our world,
            and particularly for the people of Israel and Gaza.
            Deliver them from violence and aggression,
            and give them the justice and peace that are your will and gift.
            Heal the wounds of their bodies, hearts, and relationships,
            and guide them to a future in which ancient enmities give way
            to the fellowship you offer us, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.