President Obama’s recent comments about Israel have a lot of people who love Israel thinking. If you find in this presentation of theology any points that contribute to your opinion on such issues, I am glad. And in addition to the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this theology speaks to Jewish-Christian relations in general. Draw from it what you will.
There is a hopeful theme in the Bible which I would be tempted to call “biblical Zionism.” But words like Zionism have been ruined by arguments and violence. Maybe “Zion theology” could be a more helpful name for this theme.
Zion theology has its basic principles, its difficult truths, and its ambiguities. Zion theology has been, quite appropriately I think, been appropriated by African-Americans to describe yearning for freedom from slavery and stupid prejudice. Zion theology has been subtly abused, in my opinion, by well-meaning Christians who wanted to forget its origins and commandeer its promises. This Christian expropriation of Zion theology is unfortunate, because Zion theology is powerfully about Christians as well as Jews. It is simply that too many Christians want to leave out the Jews!
Zion theology speaks to the theory of how God works with humanity as well as the reality of disappointment, disaster, and long delay. Zion theology is hope in the darkness. It insists on being taken literally. It is no mere idea. Zion is a city. And the urge to take the hope while abandoning the city is typical human rejection of the divine all the while feeling entitled to divine prerogatives. Zion theology is an actual theology found in Psalms and prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah which place great hope in a glorious future of Divine Presence, peace, justice, and the redemption of all evil centered in a chosen place called Zion.
In this first posting on the subject, let me mention some basics of Zion theology and then bring up some of the problems with believing them. I am well aware that some of them sound naive based on the way history has progressed. Hope actually sounds naive in general, all the more so in the face of a long history of tragedy.
Postulate 1: Zion (Jerusalem) comes to replace Mt. Sinai as the place from which God is revealed.
Corollary 1a: God’s identity and invitation go out from Zion to all nations, whereas Sinai was just for Israel.
Corollary 1b: Sinai is more about requirements and Zion is more about promises.
Postulate 2: Zion (Jerusalem) is the place of God’s dwelling on earth.
Corollary 2a: God’s universal love flows through a specific conduit (Abrahamic promise).
Postulate 3: Zion (Jerusalem) is a fortress of security guarded by the strong arm of the Holy One.
Corollary 3a: When Jerusalem is impure and troubled the world is not right and evil is reigning.
Postulate 4: Zion (Jerusalem) has failed but the promises remain and the city and promise will be restored.
Corollary 4a: Jewish return to Jerusalem is a fixed biblical promise and responsibility.
Corollary 4b: The righteous of the nations (Christians) have a responsibility to favor Jerusalem.
Postulate 5: Zion (Jerusalem) is the refuge of dwelling in God’s protection for the afflicted.
Corollary 5a: There is a specific goal to history which culminates in Jerusalem with a kingdom of peace.
Postulate 6: Zion (Jerusalem) is an ideal that requires faith and action according to God’s teaching.
Corollary 6a: The religious leaders (in Judaism and Christianity) are not always faithful to the teaching.
Corollary 6b: God has a cornerstone, a foundation stone, an irreducible vision that is to be served.
There are a number of problems a thinking person might have in accepting Zion theology:
(1) the problematic idea that human effort comes first as we wait for the divine promise,
(2) the scandal of a chosen land and people,
(3) the long delay of this hope and the relatively few signs in history,
(4) the discouraging effects of evil and corruption in religion and politics,
(5) the problem of the anti-Israel spirit in the world,
(6) the problem of religious sensationalism and embarrassing lunacy, and
(7) the fact that the authorities behind the Christian Bible (the apostles) had unstated assumptions about Zion theology which are all too easy for modern readers to forget.
So, I believe that Jerusalem really is the navel of the world. I believe that Messiah is real and is coming. I believe that peace, justice, and redemption are coming. I believe that God is present and his Presence will increase. I believe that things which happen in history can be signs that Zion theology is real and is happening.
And the seven problems I listed above do not dissuade me. I will deal with each of them in this series, one at a time.