How To Pray For Syria

Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?
It has been already in the ages before us.

Ecclesiastes 1:10

Since the Bible was dropped out of Heaven to provide a moral compass to a wayward human race, one would think that it would be full of sage advice about how to stop a war. Aside from disease, violent conflict is one of the most determinative forces of human history. It snuffs out entire civilisations and causes new kings and dynasties to rise in their places. Suddenly languages, art forms, cultures and races cease existing once the clenched fist has exhausted its rage.

The Bible knows nothing of this. Readers today might look and see the endless possibility and hope expounded within its pages and wonder why people are so worried. After all, God knows the plans he has for us: He plans to give us hope and a future.* Though there may be weeping for a night, joy is certain to follow the dawn.** The only truth therefore is that death and destruction and war are being written out of God’s story like a dull character in a trashy series of novellas.

The inevitable end of all war is a better peace than the one which preceded it. Armed conflict calls the noblest parts of humanity to great sacrifice, and this sacrifice is never in vain. Those in the right will win because even though there is conflict, God will certainly ensure a better future from the riches of his infinite grace.

Our one true prophet, Hollywood, has thus decreed.

*    *    *

A great evil has occurred under the satelite-precise vision of Western power. Noble warriors rise up with virtuous rage to march with peace in the barrels of loaded guns. Abel was murdered 100,000 times and his blood screams from the dust of deserted streets which have forgotten what a child at play might look like.

The brother’s blood will be avenged with fire from the sky.

What other response could be considered reasonable? What else would be just?

This Western narrative of progress must be true, since we tell it so often. Now that truth must wield the sword.

Yet I cannot get behind this Divine Narrative. Hidden within the book which dropped from the sky is the account of a real nation. It gets in the way of all the good stuff about the inevitability of progress and peace and how all the world will be one. This story interrupts the cabaret of favourite excerpts with the miserable din of human tears.

This tragedy is the backward tale of God’s chosen people as they become unchosen. Their actions take them from the reality of God’s peaceful dwelling with them, through the pain of war and famine and invasion and genocide. At the end of it all, they look forward to their deserved restoration back to the wholeness which once constituted their reality.

“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes.  They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.  I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.  My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  Then the nations will know that I am the  Lord  who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”

Ezekiel 37:24-28

After generations of conflict, the land will return to the same peace which exists now only in the imaginary land of a narrator’s story.

This story of God’s people objects to the western ideal of ordered laying-down-of-arms which is its substitute for Shalom (peace). The language of Ezekiel is concerned with the understanding of the people of the time, who could conceive of the new covenant between God and humanity in terms of their nation-state. However the fulfilment of this turned out to be a covenant which does away with nations and tribes under a King so much less glorious than the great David with his wealth and power.

David lies in a tomb whilst Jesus was raised from the dead, convincing me that his way has far more to offer than the way of armies and arms and nations-against-nations.

The beggar-King taught this new humanity how to pray. Perhaps he still has the same prayer for Syria:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:9-13

*Jeremiah 29:11

**Psalm 30:5

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