Million of pixels and gallons of ink have been spilled over the subject, much of it good and much of it unhelpful. It was easier to be a compassionate person back before the internet and rolling news. There was so little of the world you could find any information about to pull at your heart strings so you let your neighbourhood and town do the pulling. The well worn phrase “charity begins at home” had a somewhat truthful ring back then. But now, you and I are denizens of the global village and we can see up close and personal the suffering of people today in places we didn’t know existed and places we might have trouble spelling.
Compassionate people want to know what to do. Christians want to know what to do because part of the DNA of faith are those pesky “serve your neighbour” genes in which, thanks to Jesus, “neighbour” becomes an overly elastic phrase. When those genes kick in they tend to raise questions like the following:
1. What can you do when You can’t do anything? Sure you can pray, discuss and lobby but in the end Syrians and the nations who see them as their pet project are the ones who will have to sort this out. If you want the Chinese and Russians to get the Syrian government to cease and desist, then you better be prepared to not buy any consumer goods for the next decade and if you live in Europe, don’t buy any natural gas. Good luck with that.
You might like to see the US and other powers do a bit of butt kicking but the world has yet to see a civil war that a major power couldn’t make worse with better technology and four to five year election cycles. And if you were honest, Syrians would like to see foreign troops intervene with the same enthusiasm that Britain would have welcomed foreign troops in Ulster during the 1970’s.
2. How patient do I have to be? Most people aged 45 and over never expected to see Apartheid in South Africa be overthrown in their lifetimes. It took decades for the seed to grow into something that might bear fruit despite some of the most sustained campaigning and boycotting the world has ever seen. What turned the tide was the white population who devised the system and armed it and institutionalised it deciding they couldn’t do that any more. Waiting for those hearts to change means you are in for the long haul.
3. It’s hard not to be partisan There are no good guys or bad guys in this. There is no angle that will somehow make the outcome good for everyone. This war will end with one side being in the ascendency. There will be no Truth and Reconciliation Commission or an attempt to have some kind of inclusive, consensus led society. There will be a winner. And I’m pretty sure that winner will be someone we have to do business with rather than someone we will want to embrace. Some Christians are lobbying for Assad to stay in power because without him, the small Christian segment of the population will be slaughtered by whatever Islamist junta takes his place. But somehow, just because we identify with them doesn’t make Assad the answer. At the same time if we support the Islamists who are really driving the rebellion, then we will have to be prepared for Syria to be an Islamic state and for the lives of many of its citizens, women in particular, to be set back severely.
It is hard to pick a side in this one that makes you feel good about yourself. In the end, whoever wins, it will be the people who are just trying to get on with their lives who will pay the price.
4. Surely the nations of the world are champing at the bit to act out of compassion? When the chemical attack forced Obama’s hand it was clear that the US (and UK to a lesser extent) response was driven by deterrence rather than compassion. It appears to be acceptable to stand by the side and watch hundreds of thousands die by means approved by the Geneva Convention, but for a government to use a banned weapon it means a response must be made or they might do it again. Governments are worried about a conflict creating a chaotic region they cannot control, not about what is happening to people on the ground.
5. Surely it is a sign that the big J is coming? For all those who are rubbing their hands together that this might be the beginning of the End and Jesus will descend from the clouds, think again. The best piece of advice when checking out any end times prophet who says Jesus is coming back in their life time: do they have a pension plan and a will? If so, they aren’t too sure. And they shouldn’t be sure seeing as Jesus himself said the date wasn’t written in his diary.
So, what am I supposed to do about a big problem I can’t solve as a little person?
Jesus’ advice was to start where you are. Open your house and heart and wallet to those in need and sow the seeds of peace and justice in your locality so that civil wars and oppression have a hard time planting their weeds there.
Our reach is further than it was in the past and if the best we can do is care for the viciims of this war then make sure you help organisations do a job they unfortunately have to do well. The DEC is the best place to start.
You can be part of an excellent pedigree of people who have believed that one day all this will be overturned and pray for the leaders of all the nations involved and for the people of Syria. You can also prayerfully lobby your elected representatives urging them to see what can really be done rather than posturing and making believe that worthwhile solutions can be plucked from the air at a moment’s notice. Humans don’t tend to work that way.
Part of the way of faith is holding on to that hope when we aren’t given neat solutions to huge problems. They are called to be hopeful when humans seem to be allowed to continue acting human and they are hopeful when we feel powerless to help. The most excellent way is to act as if love and peace and justice may actually accomplish something, because they will in the end. It’s just such a messy path to get there.