Perhaps one of the most persistent themes concerning conflict in the Middle East is the conviction that the problem is so complex that it defies solution.
Some people see the problem as much older than the creation of a Jewish state out of Palestinian land by the United Nations in 1948. They see it going back four millennia, to the moment Sarah demanded that Abraham banish Hagar and her son Ishmael to the wilderness and almost certain death.
Whatever the roots, conventional wisdom considers the situation complex, intractable. And men and women of consummate diplomatic skill and experience have indeed spent years attempting to make the slightest progress, often only to see that progress reversed by some tragic event or intransigent attitude.
Perhaps a different basic assumption would be useful. It seems worth considering that the entangled political, religious, and governmental difficulties of the Mideast actually boil down to the need for a clearer understanding of the identity of each man and woman as the child of God.
It's common to associate good and evil with people. And not without reason. Some people seem very wicked; others extraordinarily noble. But the Bible teaches that God is all good and that we are created as His spiritual image and likeness. Also that evil is the opposite of God, a serpentine whispering that there is a material opposite to spiritual truth.
Actually, there is present in the consciousness of every individual on the face of this little earth an awareness of his or her identity as the child of God. We may not all recognize it. But it's there. This awareness is awakened in us by the ever-present influence of the eternal Christ, Truth, which Jesus demonstrated. Christ is always speaking to human consciousness, gently and powerfully. "Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy says, "Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (Pg. 332).
But most of us are aware that there seems to be another voice trying to undermine the good we all seek. This voice would, like the serpent in the mythical garden of Eden, whisper thoughts of evil to humanity.
Evil thoughts confuse us and make us behave in ways contrary to our own best interests. Individuals and even whole nations lash out with unreasoning hatred or subtly manipulate against the efforts of those trying to help them the most. Demagogy, distrust, and jealousy seem to overwhelm reason, sympathy, and trust. This all suggests our nature is mortal rather than spiritual. That it involves the basest instincts rather than the noblest qualities that flow from the brotherhood and sisterhood found in spiritual identity.
So the core problem is not any nation or any person. It is the serpent - the belief in a power opposed to God, called evil. When we stop believing in this power, we see it fade. Prayer awakens an ability to hold to the truth of God and in this way to resist serpentine suggestions. The truth that we are all God's perfect children is never changed by the evidence of evil, anymore than the sun stops shining when we see clouds. And the Christ can remove the clouds of false belief that hide spiritual identity.
Perhaps it is not so complex after all. In fact, perhaps the tendency to think of it as complex is what compounds the problem and conceals its solution. Whereas, to grasp through humble prayer the spiritual nature of each of us is to release the energies of God's healing love for us - and for the world.
Prayer resolves conflict because it dissolves the base, warring elements of character that cause conflict. Because prayer awakens us to see our fellow beings in the likeness of God.
As we pray for the Middle East on this basis, we are working at the most elemental and effective level of resolution and healing. We are understanding the power of good and holding to it. This can do unimaginable good to soften human character and inspire effective diplomacy. The world is not helpless before persistent suggestions of evil. Solutions are here.