Syria, Drones, and Niebuhr’s Prayer

Today’s top right headline feature in the New York Times read ….

None of that should frankly surprise.  The Shia – Sunni divide is centuries old, as are many other contributing rivalries.  Middle East strong men like Hussein and Assad were able to keep that strife contained through simple force and violence.  When that presence lessons however, the tensions underneath bubble to the top and explode in often catastrophic, uncontrollable violence.

This is humanity at its worse.  Easy of course for us in the United States to view sectarian strife as a form of inexcusable barbarity unless of course we come to realize we ourselves fought a bloody civil war, one that to this day remain the most damaging conflict in terms of lives lost in American history.

What is the option here?  Is it to flee from engagement in these war torn areas?  Is it to engage militarily?  Is it to continue the expansion of drone strikes and programs?

There are no easy answers.  Unlike the American Civil War, these groups are able to inflict damage on a far greater scale, reaching distant shores.  There is no moat wide enough, so to speak to protect us.  Even the simple solution of drones which appear so sanitary and detached (and popular among the electorate) arguably engender a whole new cycle of violence.

What is there then to do?  I believe again a pastor’s job is to keep calling all of us to a third way, searching beyond violence-for-violence and calling out God’s tender image of a re-imagined world in which  “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  (Isaiah 2:4)  That is God’s vision, one that will not come easily.

As Reinhold Niebuhr beautifully phrased it …

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.



Leave a Reply