The conflicts that we see in the world continue to increase. There are conflicts in a number of places in the world today, more than most of us realize. We probably know of the conflict in the area of Israel and Palestine along with the war in Ukraine, but there are many others that we don’t know or hear about. Perhaps we seldom hear of these conflicts because they aren’t impactful enough to warrant any airtime from the news media.
The United Nations, however, in its latest press release are tracking 114 ongoing armed conflicts today of major consequence, specifically in the Middle East, but also in Northern Africa. These are taking place in territories such as Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Yemen and Western Sahara. This total is aligned with the Geneva Academy of International Law and Human Rights. In total, the academy is tracking in Switzerland forty-five armed conflicts in the Middle East of all sizes, thirty-five in Africa, twenty-one armed conflicts in Asia, seven armed conflicts in Europe, inclusive of Ukraine, and six in Latin America.
Six out of seven people worldwide are plagued by feelings of insecurity. The world is facing the highest number of violent conflicts since the Second World War and two billion people, that’s a quarter of humanity, live in places afflicted by such conflicts.
All of this is going on at a time that many in the world are celebrating a holiday which has within it elements of the world’s thoughts of peace. In fact, one of the verses commonly heard at this time can be found in Luke: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).
Yet, like any other time of the year, humanity continues to provoke animosity among itself. Certainly, the Israeli-Hamas conflict has provoked raw and sometimes unbridled opinions among a lot of people in western nations. Many at first in support of Israel, then in support of Palestine; it goes back and forth as it tends to do.
So I was surprised when one of my team members at work approached me in this particular conflict and asked, “Whose side is God on?” The individual was obviously troubled as he knew people in that region. He did get me to wonder and think on what he had said. It isn’t the first time that the question has been asked. It is a question that humankind has probably wondered about throughout time because humankind always believes that they are right, and that God supports their side. But is that true?
You may have heard the following story or some derivation of it. The place was Belgium, and the time was during the very dark days of World War I and it was approaching December 25th. The place was desolate and bitterly cold. The men from both sides, the British and the Germans, had initiated a cease-fire in observance of the holiday season. There was an expanse of land between the two trenches. As the story goes, the British soldiers were irritated by a rather large sign that the Germans had decided to erect that said, in German, “Gott mit uns”. Gott, which is God and what it all meant was “God be with us”. The presents arrived from the British Isles at the front line for the British. They contained rations and other gifts. Among them were mittens for each soldier. Of course, in the typical British dry humor, they put up their own sign which read, “Got mittens too”. Did you get that?
People of strong religious beliefs have battled throughout time and they too have asked, “Whose side is God on?” Recall the crusades, the inquisitions. During these times, many have drawn some degree of comfort believing that their cause has yielded a special connectivity to God, that they have God’s special favor.
General Henry Ireton, a man of religious conviction in the seventeenth century in England once said, “Everyone claims God is on their side — He must sometimes wonder who’s on His side”. This statement is an interesting one. How do we think God looks at all of this? Can people of God be sure that God is with us individually or is this a question we should even ask at all?
Just before the destruction of Jericho, as Israel first entered the Promised Land, Joshua was on a walkabout outside the camp and also on the outer fringes of Jericho itself. He suddenly was a bit alarmed when he encountered a Man with a drawn sword. Joshua asked the Man, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13-15). In the New King James Version, the answer was “No” but in the NIV it translates “Neither…” The passage indicates by the capitalization of “Man” that this was most likely the Word, the I AM that had corresponded quite regularly with Moses.
God was about to personally destroy the walls of Jericho and give a monumental victory to Israel over her enemy. Yet the Word (John 1:1) corrected a dangerous assumption that Joshua was making. God was and will always be on His own side. We are either with Him or we’re not. What is important to us is that God must know who is on His side.
Look at Moses and his understanding right after the golden calf event. Israel had abandoned him as a leader and turned their backs on God. They fashioned a golden calf and returned to idolatry. Yet Moses understood the issue and simply stated: “. . . Whoever is on the Lord’s side — come to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him” (Exodus 32:26).
We can seek God’s will, or we can assume to know His will and form an opinion that validates our own feelings and emotional state, sometimes in an outrage of emotions. Do we assume how God feels and go forth with conviction because we state in our minds, “How could God see it any other way but this way?” This attitude and approach can lead to some really serious mistakes.
We can see the evidence of this in the deceptive account that the Gibeonites played on the Israelites as they pushed into the land of Canaan, destroying nations and cities as they advanced. The Gibeonites realized that they would face the same fate as others so they devised a rather clever scheme (Joshua 9:3-6).
The Israelites questioned the Gibeonites but failed to see through the deception that they were playing on them. The reason is made clear: “Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them” (Joshua 9:14-15). Verse 14 appears to implicate that all of Israel was at fault in not seeking counsel from God.
Any of us can sometimes feel that we have God’s support without having clearly sought out His will. We do need to pray for God’s guidance for ourselves and others. Or do we feel our will is what is most important? This happens to all of us. Many times I would like to see something happen and instead of inquiring of God and what His will might be, I want what I want to occur.
If we are truly tuned into seeking God’s will and not our own, there should be a certain amount of uneasiness when we aren’t seeking out His will. Often, we would rather get our own way even though it does not reflect God’s thinking on a matter.
Christ left us an example of how He sought God’s will above His own when praying in the Garden before His crucifixion: “… O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Christ understood that it was His responsibility to seek the will of God. We too, as the people of God should do the same. Each of us individually must be seeking God’s will in our own lives, with a willingness to change according to that will and, like Christ, truly have the attitude that says, “not as I will, but as You will.
When God chose Elisha as Elijah’s successor, Elisha, “Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, ‘Where is the LORD God of Elijah?’ And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over” (2 Kings 2:14).
Elisha wanted to know that God was with him as He had been with Elijah. Perhaps Elisha felt a bit overwhelmed in being selected to follow in the steps of this great prophet. He was relieved when the waters of the Jordan River parted for him to walk back across on dry land. (In verse 8 of the same chapter, Elijah had, with the power of God, performed that same miracle earlier, which is why Elisha cried out the way he did.) We can imagine that Elisha was asking God if He would really work through him in the way that He had worked through Elijah.
When we inquire of God’s will, we must be ready to accept what is revealed to us because God’s states that, “. . . My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Even Chris failed to meet the expectations of one of the greatest men who had ever lived — John the Baptist. “Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ When the men had come to Him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’ ” (Luke 7:18-23).
John the Baptist was expecting something and he was disappointed. But the fruits of Christ’s ministry was the reply. He would have known, even at the beginning of His ministry, that He would not fulfill every expectation of Him, even though it was prophesized because people did not understand that Christ would return a second time. so they were looking for more.
What is important is how we react when our expectations are not fulfilled by God? Does it challenge our faith? What we can be absolutely sure of is that God will finish what He has begun in us. He said that He would.
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 1:3-6).
Paul did not say that each individual would personally live to complete the whole work of God, but he did promise that God would finish what He had begun through His people. This “fellowship in the gospel” is bigger than any one of us as individuals.
Rather than claiming ownership of the works of God, we need to understand that it is God who has ownership and that He is in charge. What He does serves His greater purpose. That purpose may be fulfilled in different ways than what we believe them to be. God’s path may not align with the path that we believe He should be on, which is our desired path.
Daniel recorded his own anguish in understanding that Jerusalem would be desolate for 70 years. He cried out to God in repentant prayers in Daniel 9: 1-5. It had already been decided that Jerusalem would be desolate for seventy years. Yet Daniel had to learn what we and others of the people of God have had to learn throughout humankind’s existence. God’s timing has priority over our own expectations, no matter how heartfelt or well-meaning they may seem to us. God’s thinking of “right” is far greater than what ours is. And understanding that God was indeed working things out differently to what he had hoped, did not stop Daniel from appealing to God for His work at that time (Daniel 9:17-19).
Peter sums it up this way: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Humanity must realize that apart from God, all is in vain. Some of the events that we are seeing today may be God trying to get mankind to understand this one very valid point. Regardless of the trials we are experiencing now and regardless of what we might see in the world around us, God will do His Work.
We should be aligning ourselves to be on God’s side and not wondering what side God is on. Rest assured; He will always be on His side. His thoughts are what matter. And we must consistently seek His will and not ours — and learn to have the same attitude as Joshua — “What does My LORD say to His servant?”