Please don’t skip this post because it’s just yet another article about Syria and you’re bored of hearing about it. In light of my recent post on the dangers of using our faith as a means of denying reality, it’s important that as Christians we think seriously about how we should respond to what’s going on in the world around us.
I’ve already posted in reference to the situation in Syria. Since then, I’m relieved to say that the British government has voted against armed intervention. However, as international debate rumbles on over what the West should or shouldn’t do in response to the escalating atrocities, all eyes are now on America: President Obama is to seek public support for the use of force via six televised interviews today and a White House address tomorrow, and Congress could vote on the matter some time this week.
There are all kinds of arguments that can be made for and against the use of force in Syria. To say the issue is politically and humanly complex is a huge understatement. Many of those in favour of an armed response are motivated by a genuine desire for justice. We look with horror at graphic photos of children and families lying dead, and our hearts cry out: something must be done! An evil regime must not be allowed to perpetrate such wickedness with impunity!
That is a very natural and understandable response. But if we are to set ourselves up as judges doling out punitive justice, where exactly should we draw the line? How evil does an evil regime have to be to qualify as deserving of the western world’s anger in the form of cruise missiles and “shock and awe”? I need not remind you that there have been plenty of examples of huge injustice and genocide, even in recent decades, to which the international community has been quite happy to turn a mostly blind eye (think Rwanda for starters).
For many, the use of chemical weapons is a “red line” that demands a forceful response. The argument is that to allow the use of such weapons to go unpunished is to risk their increased proliferation in the future. But if that is the case, I have two questions. First, why are we happy to stand back while brutal dictators slay their own people as long as they do so using conventional weapons? And second, does anyone seriously think that armed western intervention in Syria will make the future use of chemical weapons in that or any other country any less likely?
One friend, a godly man whose heart I know aches for the loss of innocent life in Syria, commented that “we must be on the side of God”. Again, I understand this desire for God’s justice to prevail. But it’s increasingly my conviction that, as soon as we frame the issue in terms of sides, whether God’s or anyone else’s, we begin to depart from the Jesus way because our whole paradigm is now about winning – a subject Jesus had precious little to say about.
I don’t pretend to have an answer to the awful situation in Syria. The only response I can come up with is to cry out with the psalmist “How long, O Lord?” and to pray: that justice will roll on like a river, that those who mourn will be comforted, and that, ultimately, God’s perfect justice will be served, not the flawed justice of any man or nation. And to those who think prayer somehow seems like an inadequate response, I ask you to consider what Morgan Guyton has to say at his blog:
“Well, we have to do something!” When people who believe in God are faced with senseless evil and impossibly complex circumstances, the “doing something” that we have available to us is to pray. And when we want to pray deeply, we fast. It’s a mystery what praying actually does. I know that a lot of people talk about it flippantly without actually doing it (or at least I know that I have before). It’s easy for “I’ll pray for you” to become an empty phrase we say that we take about as seriously as “Let’s do lunch sometime.”
Today is an opportunity to act in a way that would be completely ridiculous if God didn’t exist. It is utterly foolish to believe that praying and fasting can do anything to stop crazy dictators from oppressing their people. But it is the kind of foolishness that defines Christianity. And enough praying fools really can change the course of history. So how about you skip lunch today, if you’ve already had breakfast, and spend that time talking to God about Syria? I don’t know exactly what good it will accomplish, but I know that I believe in the power of the One I will be talking to.
If you still feel that military intervention is a must, allow me to quote from Missouri pastor Brian Zahnd, who recently published a monologue on Syria:
If we think violence is a viable option you can be sure we will resort to it. If violence is on the table, imagination is out the window. First century Jerusalem could not imagine any other way than violent revolution against the Romans. Jesus could. Jesus not only imagined the alternative, he embodied it. On the cross. And he calls us to follow him. If we don’t know (or refuse to know) the things that make for peace, we march blindly toward another fiery Gehenna.
Tell me, where is the wisdom in this: “There’s too much violence in the world. We must drop a bomb on it.” Political leaders of nation-states are wedded to the ways and means of violent power. It’s what lies at the foundation of their nation-states. It’s what they know. But what do the saints and sages of the church have to say? What does Jesus have to say?
I’d strongly recommend you go over to Brian’s site and read the whole thing.
Finally, Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church, Minnesota, has posted a very interesting and thought-provoking piece on our responsibility as individual followers of Jesus versus the ways in which God uses governments to further His own purposes in the world. A snippet:
I don’t believe that being a kingdom pacifist (viz. one who swears off violence out of obedience to Jesus) means that one must embrace the conviction that governments are supposed to embrace pacifism. Many people assume this, and I’ve found that the implausibility of this position is one of the main reasons some people reject pacifism. After giving talks about the kingdom call to unconditional non-violence, I’ve frequently received responses like: “Are you telling me our government should just love the terrorists and ‘turn the other cheek’?” Actually, I’m not saying this. I don’t believe Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on the need for disciples to adopt an enemy-loving, non-violent lifestyle was ever intended to serve as a mandate for how governments are supposed to respond to evil.
If, like me, you’re trying to make sense of what is an appropriate Kingdom perspective on cases like Syria, you should definitely go and read the whole thing.
Finally finally (by which I mean that I added this after I had finished the post because I thought it was well worth adding), here’s a very insightful interview with leading US theologian Stanley Hauerwas on why America is prone to military meddling.