Posts tagged ‘Syria’

Death Is Dying

about 1324-5

Even as we celebrated Easter yesterday, it was difficult not to be burdened by the death we see around us every day.  This past Sunday, 44 worshipers lost their lives at St. George Church in Tanta and St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, both in Egypt, when ISIS suicide bombers detonated themselves in the middle of these churches’ Palm Sunday worship services.  Closer to home, in San Bernardino, a man signed himself into an elementary school at the front desk and then proceeded to walk into the classroom where his estranged wife was teaching and fatally shoot her while also wounding two students, one of whom later died from the injuries he sustained.  After his shooting spree, he took his own life.  Then, of course, earlier this month, there were the sarin gas attacks by the Assad regime against his own people in northwestern Syria.  Death is all around us.

And this is why I am so glad we get to celebrate Easter.

The story of Easter is a story of many things.  It is a story of joy, as the people close to Jesus realize the man who they thought was dead has risen.  It is a story of fear, as the women who come to the tomb that first Easter morning encounter angelic beings who startle and scare them with their fantastic message.  But it is also a story of subversion.  It is a story of subverting all those who prefer death to life.

N.T. Wright explains the subversive nature of Easter well:

Who…was it who didn’t want the dead to be raised?  Not simply the intellectually timid or the rationalists.  It was, and is, those in power, the social and intellectual tyrants and bullies; the Caesars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrant’s last weapon, death itself; the Herods who would be horrified at the postmortem validation of the true King of the Jews.[1]

In a world where terrorist attacks, school shootings, and chemical bombings instill fear into all who see and hear about them, the resurrection of Jesus reminds us that, in the words of the prophet, “no weapon forged against [us] will prevail” (Isaiah 54:17), even if these weapons kill us, for “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us” (2 Corinthians 4:14).  A tyrant may kill us.  But God will raise us.  This is Easter’s promise.  And this is why it is so good to celebrate Easter at a time like this.  For Easter reminds us that even if this world full of death, we need not fear.  Christ has risen.  And because He has risen, we will rise.

Take that, death.

___________________________________

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York:  HarperOne, 2008), 75.

April 17, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The ISIS Atrocities You Probably Haven’t Heard About

isis

ISIS must be stopped.  It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion when story after story of the group’s atrocities continue to pour in.  In a horrifying iteration of violence that has become ISIS’s trademark, a woman named Alice Assaf recounted how when jihadis marched into her town over two years ago, they killed her son for refusing to disown his faith in Christ, murdered at least six men by baking them alive in ovens, and killed 250 children by massacring them in dough kneading machines at a local bakery.

Are you sick to your stomach yet?  I certainly was when I read the news story.

But too many people have not read this story.  Stories about emails and Tweets among the two major party presidential candidates have relegated ISIS’s atrocities to the background.  Certainly, this year’s presidential election with all of its crazy ups and downs is important.  But when many people lose track of, or, I fear, even lose interest in ISIS’s activities, something has gone tragically wrong.

Just last August, it was being argued that we should ignore, or at least downplay, ISIS’s crimes.  During an official visit to Bangladesh, Secretary of State John Kerry explained:

No country is immune from terrorism. It’s easy to terrorize. Government and law enforcement have to be correct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. But if you decide one day you’re going to be a terrorist and you’re willing to kill yourself, you can go out and kill some people. You can make some noise. Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it quite as much. People wouldn’t know what’s going on.[1]

The Secretary of State was arguing that by featuring terror attacks in the headlines, we are only emboldening the terrorists by giving them what they want – free publicity, which leads to more recruiting power, which leads to more killings.  As it turns out, however, even as ISIS’s publicity retreats, the atrocities continue.  A lack of headlines does not seem to temper ISIS’s bloodlust.

We must understand that what drives ISIS, ultimately, is not a desire for fame, for land, or for money.  A theology is what drives the group.  I am sympathetic to Muslim theologians who argue that ISIS’s theology is not Islamic or representative of Allah in any meaningful or traditional sense, but even if this is the case, ISIS nevertheless has a theology.  It has a conception of a god who calls and commands its adherents to do the things they do.  And the things this god calls and commands them to do are horrifying.  But they will continue to do them, whether or not the world is watching, because they think their god is watching – and is pleased with them.

This is why we must continue to pay attention.  We must continue to pay attention because we serve and worship a God who does not order the execution of the oppressed, but cares about the plight of the oppressed and invites us to do the same.  We must continue to pay attention because we serve and worship a God who hates injustice and promises to confront it and conquer it with righteousness.

Perhaps what was most shocking to me about the article I read outlining ISIS’s bakery massacre was the headlines in the “Related Stories” column of the website I was visiting:

All of these articles carried datelines of August and September of this year.  ISIS is still on the loose, even if we don’t see it or know it.  Perhaps it’s time to see and notice once again.  After all, the blood of those it has slaughtered is crying out.

Are we listening?

____________________________

[1] Jeryl Bier, “Kerry in Bangladesh: Media Should Cover Terrorism Less,” The Weekly Standard (8.29.2016).

October 31, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Syria’s Setting the Stage for…the End of the World?

Credit: The New York Times

Credit: The New York Times

I had to chuckle.  While I was doing research for this blog, an email hit my inbox with an ominous subject line:  “History’s final chapter will be written in Jerusalem.”  It was a promotion for the latest Christian apocalyptic thriller, matrixing today’s headlines with cherry picked Scripture verses which come together to portend disaster.  This email was especially funny to me because I was researching precisely these kinds of doomsday declarations for this post.

These days, of course, doomsday’s ground zero is Syria.  And for those who have a penchant for taking ancient prophecies and sensationalizing them in light of current crises, Isaiah 17:1 has taken center stage:  “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.”  Joel Rosenberg, author of a new book, Damascus Countdown, is leading the charge of Syrian doom and gloom, writing on his blog,  “No, we don’t know that these prophecies will come to pass soon, or even in our lifetime. But yes, it is possible that Isaiah 17 … could come to pass in our lifetime.”[1]  Predictably, news outlets are picking up on his new take on this old passage.  Everyone from the Huffington Post to USA Today to Fox News to Mother Jones to The Blaze has run stories on Isaiah’s prophecy and its relationship to the current Syrian imbroglio.

For the record, let me say that I highly doubt the prophecy of Isaiah 17 will come to pass in our lifetimes.  How can I say this?  Because it already has come to pass…over 2,700 years ago.  Isaiah originally proffered this prophecy during the Syro-Ephraimite alliance of 735-732 BC.  This is why the fates of the Syrians and Ephraimites are linked in verse 3: “The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus.”  Ephraim – that is, northern Israel – made a treaty with Syria in a last ditch effort to defend herself against an immanent attack from Assyria, one of the most menacing superpowers of the eighth century BC.  This is why we read in Isaiah 7:2:  “Syria is in league with Ephraim.”  The alliance did not work.  In 732 BC, the Assyrians, led by Shalmaneser, sacked the Syrians, destroying the alliance between Ephraim and Syria.  Ten years later, the Assyrians came for Ephraim, and northern Israel was no more.  Yet, even after this devastating defeat, God made a promise that His people would endure:  “Some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs” (Isaiah 17:6).  Isaiah uses an agricultural metaphor to describe how God’s people, though defeated by the Assyrians, will never be destroyed.  There will always be a remnant faithful to Him.

To turn this ancient prophecy, fulfilled some twenty-seven centuries ago, into a modern day harbinger of hopelessness is to do violence to it.  Indeed, I am frustrated that many journalists reporting on this story and the debate between those who think this prophecy has already been fulfilled and those who think it is yet to be fulfilled are casting this debate as one between theologians who look at this text literalistically and others who do not.  Take, for instance, this line from Time magazine:  “Nearly all Biblical scholars … argue that such a literalist interpretation of the text is highly problematic.”[2]  The debate over this text is not between those who read this text in a literalistic manner as a prophecy of things to come and those who read it as already being fulfilled in ancient times.  Being “literal” or “non-literal” has nothing to do with this debate.  Rather, this is a debate over how to handle this biblical text responsibly, carefully looking at its context and seeking to understand this text in the manner Isaiah himself would have understood it.  Thus, a responsible reading of this text would note that this oracle against Syria is just one of a series of oracles against places like Philistia, Moab, and Cush, all of which no longer exist.  In context, then, it is clear that Isaiah is speaking not of modern day Syrian warfare, but of an attack against the Syria of his day along with attacks against other nations of his day, leading to their demise.

Ultimately, what is happening in Syria is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, but not of the one in Isaiah 17.  Instead, words from Jesus come to mind:  “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Matthew 24:6).  Jesus tells us there will be war.  And not just war, but wars.  The current conflict in Syria is just one such example.  Jesus also tells us that these wars do not mean the end of the world has arrived.  Conflicts are indicative that the end is indeed coming, but they are not determinative that the end has come.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus reminds us that we should not be alarmed at these troubled times.  Indeed, instead of fear, we should feel compassion toward those whose lives have been turned upside down by this terrible conflict.  The fear mongering that passes for theology in many best selling books is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ admonishment to be not afraid.  After all, what do we have to fear?  Jesus has the end of the world – and everything leading up to it – taken care of.

We can trust in Him.


[1] Joel C. Rosenberg, “Pastors: here are 24 pages of study notes on Isaiah 17, Jeremiah 49 & the future of Damascus. Please feel free to share with others,” flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com (9.11.2013).

[2] Elizabeth Dias, “Some Evangelicals See Biblical Prophecy In Syrian Crises,” Time (8.29.2013).

September 23, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,138 other followers

%d bloggers like this: