Friday 30 August 2013

A Problem Like Syria

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) should be enough to persuade us of the deeply ambiguous nature of existence in the time before the final harvest. To be sure, there is ‘good’ and ‘evil’, but both grow together until the end. Until then, we take seriously the inevitable messiness of life and the requirement for caution in some moral judgments. Unambiguous clarity is not always possible.

This week has seen an acceleration of debate around the conflict in Syria. The recall of Parliament to vote on the principle of armed intervention in response to the probable use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime on its civilians has resulted in what today’s headlines are declaring a humiliating defeat for David Cameron. But what is seen as a victory for common sense by some is seen as an abdication of moral responsibility by others. There are MPs on both sides, campaigners on both sides, Syrians on both sides. And Christians – including Syrian Christians – are on both sides too.

For all of us, a bigger picture may provide some perspective. The Old Testament prophets make it clear that God holds nations to account. A nation or a people cannot conduct itself as though it were an ultimate end in itself. It must understand its own life in the context of a larger dynamic of which it is a part – and which will answer ultimately to God. There isn’t a match between ancient nations addressed by the prophets and their modern counterparts, but there is an uncanny resemblance in the reasons for which they are indicted – pride, greed, violence, injustice – and no one nation has a monopoly on those.

Indeed, the line between good and evil, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who had good reason to yearn for regime change) reminded us, runs through our own hearts.

Prophetic sayings against the nations weren’t designed to help with nitty-gritty decision-making in international politics. They brought hope to the people of God – of his unrivaled supremacy in the world, of his plan to bless all nations even while holding them to account.

Ambiguity about the best way forward needn’t lead to inaction or despair. Even when we can’t see it now, Christians of all people have reasons for hope and confidence. And to pray and work purposefully for things that make for peace now.

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