Syria -- Sadness without Solution?
“As he was approaching Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.”
(Acts 9:3 NLT)
After five years of devastating civil war in Syria, the same old sad pattern of despair drags on. Talks do not solve the tragedy. Words do not end the war. Diplomacy does not stop the dying.
The Munich Security Conference has scheduled a “cessation of hostilities” brokered by the United States and Russia. This is supposed to happen by the end of the week, but combat is only intensifying.
The agreement requires opposition groups to stop fighting, but allows the assault on Aleppo to continue for another week. It permits Russia to keep bombing rebels opposing Syrian President Assad. Senator John McCain says this is “diplomacy in the service of military aggression.”
Many doubt that the cease fire will hold, considering the dominant role of Russian airstrikes. Syrian government and Kurdish forces, under cover of Russian air strikes, are encircling the eastern half of Aleppo, which is under rebel control. Since Assad’s authoritarian regime has ruthlessly murdered over two hundred thousand of his own people, it is difficult to imagine peace as long as he is in power. Millions of refugees are fleeing their homes, feeling they have no other choice if they are to save their lives.
Monday morning, a children’s hospital and school in northern Syria were struck by missiles thought to be delivered by Russian planes, killing 14 people. Later in the day, a Doctors without Borders hospital in northern Syria was hit by four rockets, killing nine doctors and workers and leaving five staff members unaccounted for.
News reports indicate ISIS is using chemical weapons against its enemies. Saudi Arabia is poised to enter the fray, using its military jets to fight Islamic State militants. Turkey and Qatar are considering deploying ground troops. Turkish artillery is attacking Syrian government forces. Mercy Corps, an humanitarian aid group, is frustrated trying to deliver food to residents in besieged cities. An American State Department official described all this as “a confused situation.” Indeed.
Syria (Aram, “the high land” in Hebrew), about the size of Scotland, is mentioned over 150 times in Scripture, mostly in the context of war. Abraham, on his way from Mesopotamia to the Promised Land, lived in Syria temporarily. Balaam, hired to curse Israel, called Syria home. David subdued Damascus. Israelite kings Joash and Jehoash managed victories over Syria’s rulers. Syria has been governed in turn by Assyria, Pharaoh Necho, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Seleucus, Rome, Persia, the Turks, Crusaders. Saladin, Tamerlane, the Ottoman Empire, Bonaparte, and Turkey. In 1868, Syria was attacked by the Druses, who killed 12,000 people and destroyed hundreds of villages.
The current fighting is supposed to cease by week’s end. Will the pandemonium give way to peace? Will suffering people “living in a land where death casts its shadow” see a great light? (Isaiah 9:2)
Luke mentions that when Jesus was born, Quirinius governed Syria. Matthew refers to Isaiah’s prophecy concerning God’s Servant who will bring justice to the nations, one whose name will be the hope of all the world (Matthew 12:17-21). On the road to Damascus, Saul was transformed into Paul—emissary for One able to bring peace to human hearts, a peace he himself experienced.
Damascus, reputedly the oldest continuously existing city in the world, serves as capital to Syria, a country that has known very little tranquility. Followers of the Prince of Peace pray that diplomats attempting to negotiate cease-fires in that perpetual war zone will discern a light from heaven—illuminating their minds with wisdom to broker more than a temporary truce. Believers in the One whose name is above all other names hope God will speed the day when Christ rules heaven on earth from the capital of the new Jerusalem—the long-awaited time when the world’s government will rest on his shoulders and finally there is lasting peace in a world for so long heartbroken by war.
Johnny R. Almond
Interim Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church; Fredericksburg, Virginia