The nation of Syria is one of the oldest on earth in terms of human habitation. Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited place known of in the world, with history stretching back at least twelve thousand years. Syria was once a mighty world power, thousands of years ago. These days its a small country in a very volatile, troubled region that has for a long, long time been led by a succession of kings and dictators.
And Syria is in the news a lot recently. Always a problematic area with a dictator that despised the west and supported terrorism, Syria was an ally of sorts to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and that's where Hussein sent a huge convoy of trucks the night before the Coalition of the Willing invaded in 2003. There's been a lot of speculation about what was in those trucks, but whatever it was, its still in Syria.
Bashar Assad is the dictator of Syria and he's fighting very hard against rebels to retain his position. These rebels are at least partly funded by al`Qaeda and Hezbollah, so they are quite wealthy and well-equipped. They have gotten weapons from Libya, including some US equipment, and are doing very well against Assad's military.
As the fight has continued on, some very horrible things have taken place. In April 2012, the military fired on civilians to quell protests. In September 2012 we had a report that the military was cluster bombing areas where rebels were hiding among civilians. In October 2012, Syrian forces fired mortars into Turkish border towns, killing civilians. In November 2012, after months of sporatic shelling from the Golan Heights into Israel, Israel returned fire.
In March of this year, the UN investigated a report that the Syrian air force used fuel air bombs to attack the town of Qusayr. In June, people danced and cheered in the streets as al`Qaeda rebels cut the head off a Roman Catholic priest. Also in June, the Syrian air force shot down a Turkish jet that had strayed into Syrian airspace and helicopters fired on suspected rebel sites in Lebanon. By July, the death toll has reached an estimated 100,000. This month a Jesuit missionary was reported dead at the hands of rebels in Ar-Raqqah.
And most recently, there are reports of some kind of chemical gas being used to kill rebels by the Syrian government, killing hundreds; the Syrian government accuses the rebels of using the weapons.. Most of the free world's governments have officially backed the rebels and their elected leader Ghassan Hitto. However Ghassan Hitto resigned his position in July, stating that he could not get anything organized and could not form a government. Saudi-backed Ahmed Jarba is in charge now.
This Syrian Conflict involves at least seven middle eastern countries or more in various ways, either from support and rebel leadership or in direct military conflict. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel are all involved one way or another. And the fighting threatens to spread from there to other areas.
So how does a Christian respond to this? Well that answer is a bit tricky.
For some, mostly American, Christians this is a matter of a huge overarching system of prophecy and Biblical interpretation. Premillennial pretribulation dispensationalists will likely argue that this is a fulfillment of a long complex prophecy in Daniel about Gog and Magog and the end of the world, that Israel fighting against the entire world in a battle at the end of time is what is unfolding and so on. Any time there's any conflict in the middle east this seems to come up.
Now I find that whole system to be at best suspect and very damaging to scripture, but that's not really important to the basic Christian response to these horrors. Whatever your eschatology (view of the end times, essentially) is, all of us should respond to the Syrian conflict in the same sort of manner.
The first is to hit our knees on the floor and pray. No matter where war happens or who is involved, no matter what the conflict is over or who the fighters are, its a horrible, terrifying thing to go through. Most people in a war torn region are stuck, they cannot get away. They can only pray and hope that those fuel air bombs, chemical weapons, and bullets. Families who have nothing to do with rebels or the government or fighting have to live their lives, raise their children, find food and water and shelter and what work they can as the war goes on. And they need our prayers.
Further, the leadership on either side needs prayers to be shown wisdom, compassion, restraint, judgment, integrity, and righteousness. They all need prayers and God's guidance as much as anyone else does, so that peace and justice may triumph in the region instead of war, treachery, and evil. We must pray for justice, that the evil may not go unpunished. We must pray for strength for those Christians trapped in the area, that they show God's glory and love through the fighting and terror. We must pray for the families of people living and working in the region. And we must pray for ourselves to be good and true and right when we think and speak of the events, and for forgiveness when we do not.
This is going to be a bit controversial to some and politically incorrect I suppose, but all Christians should pray for a growth of Christianity in the region. The gospel and the love of Jesus Christ is the only possible long-term hope for peace and stability in the country. A transforming wave of Biblical, loving, humble Christianity would be tremendously good for the area, and we all should pray for it to take place, that God would show mercy on the people there and bring salvation and the gospel in a mighty way to the whole region.
Further, we must do what we can to help those in need. Relief and aid groups that are sending food, clothing, medical supplies, and so on to people in the area all can use our donations, assistance, money, and prayers. It is a simple act of Christian charity to help those in need in far away countries that has long defined America's response to any events. The generosity of the American people is world famous and justly praised, and we must continue to help those in need.
Also, we have to consider who is in government and what they are doing. How do they react to these situations, what is their response, their rhetoric? Are they acting out of genuine concern for justice, peace, and truth? Do they lead the nation and the military in a manner that is consistent with US law? Are they spending US treasury and the lives of soldiers wisely and properly? If so, they deserve our support in this. If not, they deserve only opposition and removal.
Finally we should be conscious and aware of those in our midst who have family, friends, and colleagues in the region. Do they need our help, our love, and our support? What can we do to show God's love to them, our neighbors? We should carefully guard our tongues and our typing to display the glory of God rather than petty snark and bitterness. A cruel barb might be initially fun or earn the praise of others, but it could cut very deep for someone with a loved one trapped in the area.
God be with the people of those nations, and may He bring us peace in the region soon. I do not subscribe to the whole dispensational system of prophetic interpretation, but I certainly share their longing for Christ's return, and we should not only pray for it to be soon, but live our lives as if at any moment the Master will step through our door and into our homes.
*UPDATE: Another thought: when we look at Syria, what do we see? Groups of people so filled with their goals and desires that they are willing to slaughter innocent people to achieve them. People so driven by their ideology or wants that there seems to be no limits to the horrors they will commit. Bashar Assad wants to stay in power so bad he'll kill for it. The rebels want him out of power (and them in power) so badly they'll kill for it.
Now, in this life, as Ecclesiastes teaches, there's a time and place for everything, even death and war. But we must always be sure that the time is fight and the cause is just, that what we do, we do for the cause of justice, righteousness, and the glory of God, not to meet our whims or ideology.
So each of us as Christians must sit back and consider what we are doing and why. We all should pray for humility and patience, pray for wisdom and obedience to God. Because how many times in our lives have we said and done wrong out of a political motivation or out of a desire for our ideas or goals to be successful? We must repent of our sin, our cruelty, our greed, our hunger for power, and our lack of humility and love. Each of us, and all of us as a body of Christ in the churches and the church universal.
Because while its easy to point the bony finger of condemnation at others for their wicked deeds, we must first look in the mirror and see ours. Yes, that chip of wood in their eye is why they're in such misery, but what about the plank in ours?