The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 19, 2023

It’s Thursday, October 19, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Fog of War: President Biden’s Comments in Israel in the Wake of Palestinian Attacks on Gaza Hospital

It really did make history that the President of the United States visited Israel during a time of war yesterday, landing in Tel Aviv and making public statements and a public appearance with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s interesting to note, by the way, that Benjamin Netanyahu is currently not operating as the head of the government that represents the coalition that had been put together that made him Prime Minister. Under the condition of this war, in a parliamentary system of government, Israel is basically now being governed by an emergency war cabinet. That’s just an illustration of how fast the world can change. It can change on the ground in Israel, it can change on the ground just about anywhere.

Big events on the ground in Gaza. Most particularly, a bombing that led to hundreds of deaths in a hospital in Gaza. All this has been frontline news. It’s unavoidable, but we need to recognize that even with all of these headlines roiling, the President of the United States appeared in Tel Aviv with a simple message, “I come to Israel with a single message. You are not alone.” He went on to say, “As long as the United States stands, and we will stand forever, we will not let you ever be alone.”

Now, there’s so much to look at there. For one thing, the presence of the President of the United States in Israel at a time of war, after the attack by Hamas, sends an incredibly important signal all around the world. And you need to recognize that when a president, when a presidential administration puts itself on the line like this, it is by no means by accident. This is an intentionality. And for the State of Israel, this is incredibly important. There is no ally for Israel in the entire world like the United States of America. Any faltering of the United States and its commitment as an ally to Israel, any step back from the situation, any public or private lack of support for Israel would have an immediate effect on Israel and on the conduct of the nation and the future of the nation as we think about this war.

Remember, that just a matter of days ago, the terrorist group Hamas launched a deadly attack upon Israel, basically starting Israel’s latest war. Israel has responded, as any civilized society must respond, with force in order to limit the incursion by an enemy force. And by the way, genocidal and murderous, let’s remind ourselves. Killing mothers and their babies, killing non-combatants who had gathered for a music festival, with an intentionality we now know to create as much mayhem as possible, committing as many murders as possible. And let’s remind ourselves they’ve also taken an incredible number of hostages. The use of such hostages in any situation is grossly immoral, but the use of these hostages in this situation is effectively the attempt to create a human shield of civilian human bodies, some of them, by the way, Americans as well as Israeli, in order to prevent Israel from being able to eliminate the threat of Hamas.

That’s what’s going on here. But before we go to the hospital bombing, before we go to the conflicted reports, let’s just consider the fact that the President of the United States, in an absolutely unprecedented act, went to Tel Aviv, stood with the Israeli Prime Minister in a time of war and made the very clear statement, “I come to Israel with a single message, you are not alone.” Then stating that the United States would stand with Israel. Now, theologically, there’s a problem in what the President said thereafter. The President said, “As long as the United States stands, and we will stand forever, we will not let you ever be alone.”

Just to make a theological clarification, the Scripture is clear that the United States of America will not stand forever. In the timeline of biblical history, even the timeframe we know, will one day be no more. Time will be no more. In the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ, time as we know it will be replaced with kingdom time. And the kingdom realities are what Christ will bring, and in his sovereignty, what God will effect. I think we know what the President was saying here. It was rhetorically loose and theologically wrong, but it was intended to send a moral message, both to Israel and to Israel’s enemies. In sending a moral message, we understand the rhetorical flourish, but at least in terms of the claim being made, it is important for us to recognize that Jesus Christ has established his church, and his church and his kingdom are forever. No earthly nation, principality, power or government is forever. Even if it might claim sometimes to be so.

The Israeli Prime Minister welcomed the American President, and let’s remind ourselves, Prime Minister Netanyahu had invited President Biden to come. That’s a pretty shocking invitation. Just consider this. In a time of war, in a time of a deadly terrorist attack there within the nation of Israel, in a time when Israel is currently at war with an exchange of rockets, sometimes hundreds, even thousands of rockets being exchanged, in a time in which Israel is getting ready to launch a ground war, and in a time of unbelievably heightened international tensions, the Prime Minister of Israel invited the President of the United States to visit. And the President of the United States did go. Why? That’s a huge question. Let’s just analyze that for a minute. Why did the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, why did he go to Israel at this point?

Well, very clearly, he went to send an undeniable, unmistakable indication of American support for Israel. And he spoke very avidly, very clearly about the alliance between the United States and Israel, but President Biden actually went far beyond that. It’s just important to note, let’s remind ourselves that even as the President was preparing to land in Tel Aviv and to stand with the Israeli Prime Minister, headlines all over the world were blaming Israel for an attack on a hospital that was claimed to have been a premeditated attack undertaken by Israeli defense forces that would amount to the loss of hundreds of lives. The story is truly horrific. The attack on the hospital, or the explosion at the hospital, clearly did lead to a massive loss of life.

Remember, that one of the principles of just war, of the rules of law in terms of how a war is to be conducted, one of the main principles is the protection of civilians and the targeting only of combatants. This would clearly violate that. But even before the President landed, both Israeli, and this is really crucial, American Military Intelligence sources were saying Israel did not launch the attack that led to the devastation and the deaths at this hospital. Rather, the attack upon this hospital, the explosion by what’s been described as a missile. That missile was launched from inside Gaza by forces not allied with Israel, but rather with Islamic terrorism forces.

Now, it’s one thing for the Israeli Prime Minister to make that claim. It’s one thing for military intelligence associated with Israel to make that argument. And here’s where a worldview analysis leads us to just understand, it’s another thing entirely for the President of the United States to land in Tel Aviv and cite American Military Intelligence in saying that according to that American Military Intelligence and American Military authorities, the attack on the hospital was not undertaken by Israel. Rather, as the President said succinctly, “It was the other team.”

Now, time and again right now, we just have to step back and say there’s no precedent for anything like this. Nothing like this, exactly like this, parallel to this, corresponding to this has taken place in the American experience. You’re talking about a direct threat to the existence of Israel. You’re talking about the United States very quickly coming to the conclusion that Israel’s not only an ally, but it is within the interest of the United States and righteousness to stand with Israel and Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself. But then, even over the successive days thereafter, the United States has actually moved more clearly into public support for Israel. Now, what’s going on there? Is this just Zionist influence in terms of the American government? It’s perplexing some people. It’s perplexing some people in Europe. It might be perplexing some people in the United States. It really shouldn’t. It shouldn’t. This is unprecedented, but it’s not inexplicable.

Remember, that back in 1948 when Israel declared its independence, declared the birth of the nation, the United States of America was the first nation to recognize Israel. That was absolutely crucial. That was absolutely the game-changer. By the end of World War II in 1945, the United States of America was basically the biggest most influential power in the world, with the most powerful military. Now, the shape of the Cold War, it was also coming into form in terms of the American block, with America at the lead, European nations, other allies around the world, as opposed to the Warsaw Pact, the communist world headed mostly by the USSR as it was then, the Soviet Union. The reality is all that was coming into view, but still, the United States making that declaration in 1948 really did make the difference in historical retrospect between whether Israel would succeed or Israel would fail.

Now, thereafter, it has been complicated at times, because the relationship between any two nations is often complicated, especially when you have a Jewish nation that is established there in the Mediterranean area in one of the most hotly contested regions of the world, very different than the transcontinental nation of the United States of America. With the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, it is a fundamentally different area. Here’s what’s really interesting. President Biden, as well as previous American administrations, has made very clear that we understand that the predicament of Israel is a very different predicament. It is a predicament of Israel being opposed by its nearest neighbors for most of its history, and it exists right now with many people having the declared purpose of bringing an end to Israel itself.

Another interesting twist in what the President said and what his visit meant, had to do with the relationship between the United States and, say, Palestinians or Arab nations, Muslim majority nations. As originally planned and declared by the White House, the President would meet in Tel Aviv with the Prime Minister of Israel, but the President would then go on to Amman, Jordan to meet with King Hussein of Jordan as well as other leaders, the President of Egypt and also the President, as he’s identified, of the Palestinian Authority. But the incident at the hospital, which Palestinians immediately blamed on Israel, and this is what’s predicted. We said in the beginning, that as soon as Israel got into a situation of fighting back against Hamas, the claims would be that there are gross violations of the law of war undertaken by Israel.

Now, Israel is likely, almost assuredly, it will make mistakes. And even as Hamas has embedded civilians, we need to know, and hostages in order to put Israel in the predicament that if it goes after Hamas, as it must, there will be danger to civilians. But that’s not the fault of Israel. It’s the fault of Hamas for using human beings as human shields and, frankly, for taking hostages. Israel’s in the predicament of fighting against lawlessness while attempting to be held to the rule of law. That’s a very interesting, that’s an excruciating predicament, and it’s going to have political consequences. We’re going to see, this is almost assured, we’re going to see that some support for Israel will fall away simply because of the pressure of understanding what it means for Israel to fight back.

This makes the visit of President Biden all the more interesting and, historically, all the more significant. Because when a President of the United States makes a physical visit like this, that is sending a very clear signal. Now again, the President, the White House made the announcement that he’d be meeting not only in Israel with the Israeli Prime Minister, but also with the President of Egypt and with the President of the Palestinian Authority and with the King of Jordan. But that’s not what happened, and that’s because those leaders cited the incident at the hospital in order to cancel the visit.

Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, and by the way, holding that long after his term has expired in what amounts to a failed government, he went back to Ramallah. The President of Egypt said he was not going to appear. And King Hussein of Jordan pulled the meeting because his most important guests other than the President were not going to appear. And remember, that the King of Jordan, King Abdullah, he’s in the very unusual position of being king of a nation, about 90% of the population of which is actually displaced Palestinians, which means the King of Jordan is in a very difficult vice when it comes to anything related to the future of the Palestinians. At least some of those developments happened as the President of the United States was in the air on Air Force One headed for Tel Aviv.

So what we’re looking at here are events unprecedented in world history. We’re looking at the absolute necessity of Israel defeating Hamas, and here’s where it’s really interesting to note. At this point, it is dramatically also in the interest of the United States of America that Hamas be destroyed. But here’s something else that you might not note, and the international media might not point you to. It’s actually very much in the interest of many of the other states, including Arab states, including Jordan, including Egypt, that Hamas be destroyed, and that’s because Hamas is a terrorist organization, maybe very likely to turn its terrorism on Egypt or on Jordan, because neither Egypt nor Jordan is meeting the demands that are made by the Islamicist group. So that’s one of the things happening under the surface. Israel is actually counted upon by many of the majority Arab nations in the region to deal with Hamas because Hamas is, truth be known, their enemy as well.

It’s finally, on this issue, very important to note that the President of the United States said publicly, frankly over and over again, that it is the responsibility of Israel to try to produce as few civilian casualties in Gaza as possible. And that’s true. That’s an important part of just war theory and the law of war. And the President and his administration were also putting leverage up against Egypt to allow some aid and at least some of the refugees from Gaza to enter into Egypt, at least temporarily. It’s unclear exactly how all that is going to work out, but at least it was announced that some Israeli aid is going to be able to get to the Palestinians via Egypt. It’s unclear exactly how all that’s going to come about, but this is the essence of what you’re looking at in the fog of war when so many of these events are happening almost faster than we can know of them or think about them. And imagine the quandary of those who are trying to lead the nation of Israel in this situation and those who are trying to direct its military defense.

This is an unfolding situation, and it reminds us of a phrase you have probably heard, which is the fog of war. It’s true, over time, that war tends to clarify. It becomes morally clarifying. It tends to indicate character. It reveals power. All kinds of things are clarified by war, but war itself is often conducted in a situation of radical unclarity, of confusion, the fog of war. Too much is happening. Too much is happening unpredictably in different places. Too much is coming in in fragmented reports. So much of what’s being presented is not only news but fake news. It’s not only information, it’s disinformation. It takes a while to figure out the truth in the human context, wherever and whenever that human context is found. In the context of war, the crucible of a military effort with life and death hanging in the balance, the Christian worldview explains that we would have every reason to expect that the fog of war will be even foggier.

A couple of other things we need to think about. Remember the attack on the hospital. Remember hundreds of dead reported and basically acknowledged on all sides. Remember that the Palestinians and many Arab nations and some European nations have been pointing the finger at Israel, and Israel said they didn’t do it. And the United States citing US Military Intelligence very quickly said, “They didn’t do it. The other team did it.” And that raises another question. Why would United States authorities be so quick to make that evaluation? Why would President Biden put the reputation of the United States and have his own reputation on the line in making that statement? It’s because on the one hand, you have the issue of the fog of war. On the other hand, you have what human beings and any previous era did not have, and that is real-time digital intelligence and information, including imagery coming from satellites in which you can have sources trace the reality of where an explosion happened and where a missile or other weapon was launched.

And thus, it’s really interesting that, yes, you have the fog of war on one hand, but you also have incredible digital clarity through military intelligence. And now you have the United States administration saying, “We’re pretty sure at this point it was not Israel.” That’s unprecedented also, to have a judgment like that coming so quickly based upon real live digital information that frankly one day may be made public. Which leads to another issue. These days, and this is fundamentally new, this kind of information is not available only to governments. It is available also to many in private corporations, private hands. For that matter, you can look at an individual like Elon Musk who owns an information gathering system including satellite technology, the likes of which the world has never seen. And you’re looking at the fact that there are those who can hack into these systems, and frankly, much of it’s publicly accessible anyway. And so, you can have a teenager in Minneapolis tracking many of these events in war halfway around the world in real-time.

Part II

The World is Changing Before Our Eyes: Major Shifts on the World Stage in the Wake of the Wars in Israel and Ukraine

All of this just underlines how much the world is changing before our eyes. Technology does matter in this kind of case, and it matters at least in one dimension in helping to clarify the truth. Another big issue here is the reshaping of the world. This is just massive. Because if you talk about the way foreign alliances and military and political engagements would have been defined, say, just a matter of three or four months ago, the world’s changing before our eyes. It’s changing in several ways. Changing, of course, with the war in Israel, the attack by Hamas. It’s changing in the shape of the alliance between the United States and Israel. It’s changing in the moral context there in Europe. It’s changing because of the war in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Hamas attack on Israel, both of those things reshaping the world.

Scandinavian nations that have been standoffish from NATO have joined and now are joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization because they want to be in a mutual defense pact with European nations and with the United States of America. Why? Because they now see Russia as an inherently hostile threat. The Russian bear is on the aggressive march. That’s forced a reshaping of the political map of Europe. Now you have a reshaping of the political map of the Middle East. We are looking at a time in which every basic political map may be redrawn, and that includes the international alliances. You had the United States in recent decades trying to play a certain strategy known as triangulation. That is, we defend American interest in the interest of our allies by, for one thing, having a set of relationships with Russia and having a set of relationships with China that were discreet and, at least in part, were an attempt to try to keep those two from allying together. But now an alliance between the two is pretty much evident.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Hamas attack on Israel, the United States being clearly declared. Both Russia and China see an opportunity. They see the opportunity somewhat differently. Russia sees the opportunity to gain in Ukraine because the world is distracted given the attack on Israel by Hamas, and there may be further distractions even in months ahead. And Ukraine feels threatened because the nations that have been standing with Ukraine with so much aid in its fight against the invading force of Russia, well, Ukraine now recognizes the world has an interest elsewhere. And even as the Biden administration is proposing a massive amount of aid to Ukraine and Israel together, the fact is they’re not conceptually together inherently, and eventually one of these may become more important to American interest than the other. And Vladimir Putin’s pretty much counting on that. He’s also counting on the fact that he has the opportunity, even as China sees the opportunity, to create a Russian Chinese alliance, basically established with the mutual interest of opposing the interest of the United States of America.

So even as the President of the United States was going to Israel, the President of Russia was going to China, as China was having a big reunion of its very aggressive Belt and Road Initiative, by which it’s been trying to buy friends, and for that matter, buy territory or rights to territory all over the world. The aggression of China matched with the needs of Russia has created a change in the entire foreign policy map, and intentionally, or at least by design, at the expense of the United States.

We’ll be looking at big developments here in the United States, including some massive issues of worldview significance.

Part III

India’s Supreme Court Declines Same-sex Marriage: A Surprising Conservative Judgment That Likely Delays the Inevitable

But now we have to go to India. So let’s leave the context of war in the Middle East. Let’s leave the context of war in Ukraine. Let’s go to India. What happened in India? Well, what is now the nation’s most populous nation, its Supreme Court just declined to legalize same-sex marriage. Now, that’s headline news not just because the court didn’t legalize same-sex marriage, but because many people expected the court would do just that. And so what you’re seeing here is a court reflecting a more conservative judgment than had been expected. And this more conservative settlement by which the court did not legalize same-sex marriage came at the request and certainly with the support of the government and religious leaders there in India.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported it this way. “India Supreme Court has declined to legalize same-sex unions, dashing the hopes of millions of LGBTQ+ people seeking marriage equality. The court instead accepted the government’s offer to set up a panel to consider granting more legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples.” Big worldview dimension here. For one thing, there is reference in this article to religious leaders in India, and by the way, just remind yourselves, this doesn’t mean Christian leaders, but it means leaders who say, “We are not ready to accept same-sex marriage, and we’re certainly not ready to say that it’s on terms of equality with heterosexual marriage.”

A couple of big things we just need to note. This was a report from the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation from liberal Europe, and thus this lead paragraph spoke of “people seeking marriage equality.” As if that’s a meaningful category. What’s marriage equality? And you know the argument. The argument was made here in the United States, that marriage equality means that a man and a man and a woman and a woman ought to be equally qualified to marry as a man and a woman. That would be an argument nonsensical throughout virtually all of human history. It’s also important for us to recognize, and properly so, this is a nonsensical argument in a great deal of the world right now in 2023. The big news here is that India’s Supreme Court did not legalize same-sex marriage.

The other thing we need to note here is that the government nonetheless, the High Court there in India, made the statement that there could be a government panel that will be set up to try to consider “granting more legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples.” Now, that means short of marriage. That means something other than marriage that this panel might come up with. Well, the sad experience of the United States of America is that some kind of false or artificial marriage doesn’t last very long. Precisely because, according to the ideology of the sexual revolutionaries, when you use the word equality, well, something that’s not marriage isn’t equal to marriage. And so, it’s unlikely that this kind of position in India is going to be any more sustainable over time than the same kind of arrangement that was proposed in the United States. What were called domestic partnerships, well, eventually those pushing for same-sex marriage came back and said, “Marriage light is not marriage. Sort of marriage is not marriage.” And that meant in terms of legal status and legal recognition.

Here’s where Christians need to come back and say, “Look, you can make the law say whatever you want to make it say. You can be successful in terms of that kind of effort. You can get the Supreme Court of the United States to declare that a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman. But here’s what you can’t do. You actually can’t redefine marriage. You can just lie about marriage.” But sadly, the other point we need to recognize is that if a government will not come out and say, “Yep, we actually know what marriage is. Marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman.”

We know that simply by the structure of biology, even if we cite no special revelation. We know that by the imperative of procreation and having babies, even if we claim no doctrinal or supernatural or theological authority. The fact is that even if you do not have access to the Bible, you have a really clear undeniable access to male and female and the knowledge of what that means. And even pre-Christian and un-Christian societies, not by accident, but by the creation of human beings in the image of God and the implantation of a moral consciousness in us and the revelation of his character and nature. The fact is every civilization, every society has gotten to a definition of marriage, regardless of what they called it, that meant a man and a woman in an exclusive relationship that included the duty and the right of procreation and the birth and raising of children.

So in other words, as you look at this headline from India, well, here’s the good news. In moral terms, India Supreme Court did not legalize same-sex marriage. Here’s the bad news. The government has basically said that it’s willing to compromise its way to the very same goal, the very same end. And in the Christian perspective, this is just another way of getting to the wrong place. The question isn’t whether India is likely to get to the wrong place here. The question, as it turns out, has more to do with timing. The fundamental reality is that if you are not clear and will not be loud about what marriage is, well, somehow your society is going to lose that knowledge and declare something that’s not marriage to be marriage.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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