Even in darkest places, there are those who keep a light shining

Thinking Anew: The horrors of the Hamas assault on Israel, and now of the bombing of Gaza, should not blind us to hope

In responding to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began his speech to the US Congress with these words: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy…” Today, Remembrance Day, takes us back to those war years, a time to reflect on the price others pay when we fail to learn the lessons of history.

October 7th, 2023 – another day “which will live in infamy” – was when Hamas launched a savage attack on Israeli civilians. No cause could ever justify the atrocities that characterised this brutal assault by Hamas on men, women, and children. It was pure evil. Of equal concern must be the consequences for Gaza and its suffering people, especially the children. There is pressure on all of us to take sides and name the ‘baddies’ – Israeli, Palestinian and so on. This can lead to one-sided sympathies that cause more hurt by failing to recognise that within each community there are innocent as well as guilty, peacemakers as well as peace-breakers.

This conflict has deep roots in history, going back to the end of the second World War when the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust became more widely known. This gave new life to an earlier idea that the Jewish people needed a secure homeland, which for them meant the Promised Land of the Bible. (Tomorrow’s Old Testament reading reminds us that the people of Israel did not always occupy the Holy Land – King David only captured Jerusalem in around 1000 BC – and possession was conditional, as the Old Testament prophets regularly made clear.)

The birth of Israel in May 1948 led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of the Arab population, who were driven from their lands. These dispossessed people, thousands of them still in refugee camps, have long felt abandoned and therein lies the problem. But as Leo Tolstoy pointed out, war is not the answer: “A good portion of the evils that afflict mankind is due to the erroneous belief that life can be made secure by violence.”


In Israel and Gaza today there are many, including Jews and Arabs, not often heard about (bombs and rockets make more noise) but who, against all the odds, are keeping light shining in the darkest of places

In those same lands Jesus grieved because people did not recognise “the things that belonged to their peace.” He knew that the world would reject his message of peace and justice – the cross is the proof of that – which is why judgment and accountability are important themes in the biblical narrative. But he urged his followers never to give up shining light even in the darkest of places, a point illustrated in tomorrow’s gospel. In Israel and Gaza today there are many, including Jews and Arabs, not often heard about (bombs and rockets make more noise) but who, against all the odds, are keeping light shining in the darkest of places.

Consider the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, for example, a Christian foundation sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem with the support of other churches of the Anglican Communion including the Church of Ireland. It was in the news recently when a rocket struck its grounds, killing and injuring hundreds of people seeking shelter. The hospital’s Diagnostic Cancer Treatment Centre had also been damaged by rockets, causing four hospital staff members to be injured and severely damaging two of its upper floors. There is a sad irony in the fact that this happened on a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the Holy Land, called for by Pope Francis, the Anglican Communion and other Christian denominations. The hospital has been there since 1882, a light shining in the darkness.

It is said that the 19th-century American Congregational minister the Rev. Robert Alden was one of the people upon whom Laura Ingalls Wilder based a character in the Little House on the Prairie series. He lived and worked through the difficult years of the American Civil War and said of those tragic times: “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”