By David Gushee 10-20-2015

The Syrian crisis is escalating in unnerving ways with the arrival of Russian troops and the beginning of direct Russian military intervention. What had been a local and regional humanitarian disaster now risks becoming a superpower confrontation between Russia and the United States. Undoubtedly the introduction of Russian firepower on the scene will bring more civilian suffering, dislocation, and death.

If I were looking for handles for prophetic preaching on the Syria situation, I might select the following:

1. Tyranny. Syrian President Assad is by any measure a tyrant. His tyranny triggered dissent, which erupted in 2011 street protests. He responded to dissent with more tyranny. That produced the conditions for armed rebellion and eventually civil war, which by now is far beyond a civil war. All of which has created suffering, death, and dislocation in extreme forms. Tyranny is real in this sinful, rebellious world, and peace is not possible unless tyranny is checked or defeated. Our God is a God of justice and an end to tyranny. God’s justice is needed in Syria.

2. Chaos. Syria has fractured badly. President Assad controls barely a third of his own country. ISIS controls part. No one controls other parts. Part of what governing regimes provide is order. Sometimes that order is markedly unjust. But the alternative to unjust order is not always a just order. Sometimes it is simply chaos. Our God is a God of order and an end to chaos. God’s order is needed in Syria.

3. Violence. Tyranny often involves violence. Resistance to tyranny does not always involve violence, and many scholars interpret Jesus as offering instruction precisely in nonviolent resistance to tyranny. But when resistance becomes violent, it introduces its own dynamics. Violence begets violence in a vicious circle. Traumatized and violated people often visit escalating violence upon their enemies and each other. It is quite a sorry spectacle we witness in Syria: state violence producing rebel violence, with the additional intervention of outside terrorist violence and outside state violence, and so on. Our God is a God of peace and an end to violence. God’s peace is needed in Syria.

4. Power. Power is always a dimension of human life and especially of statecraft. In a politically healthy nation, power flows upward from the people through their political representatives to the development and implementation of laws and policies that benefit all the people. When this goes wrong, as it has in Syria in so many different ways, some intervening power is required to set the wrong right. Our God is a God of power, justly exercised. God’s power is needed in Syria.

5. Hospitality. Syria’s crisis has produced a massive outflow of refugees. Most of these have been absorbed in nearby nations such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, but thousands upon thousands are seeking refuge in Europe and elsewhere. Nations so often prove inhospitable when people of other nations are in need of refuge. All nations need to do their part to offer refuge to the pitiable victims of Syria’s collapse. That includes the United States. Our God is a God of hospitality. God’s hospitality is needed in regard to Syria and Syrians.

6. Peacemaking. The various parties in Syria, and now the outside interveners, will likely try to pound each other into submission for a while longer. But eventually, sooner rather than later we hope and pray, all parties will recognize that they cannot kill their way to a solution in that tortured land. Peacemaking is so desperately needed. This is precisely the kind of role originally envisioned for the United Nations, but they have tried to broker peace and have failed so far. That body needs to resume its role or another ad hoc group must step in. Our God is a God of peacemaking. God’s peacemaking is needed in Syria.

7. Hope. The situation in Syria seems pretty hopeless at this moment. But it is an odd thing about the moral structure of this universe that God made — it bends toward justice, order, and peace. Because it is what human beings were made for, and because we know how destructive tyranny, chaos, and violence are, there is built in pressure in human life for justice, order, and peace. No conflict lasts forever. This one will end. We must pray, work, and hope for that end to come soon.

Rev. Dr. David Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.

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