The Syria Crisis:
Spiritual & Prophetic Lessons
The Syrian Civil War began in the spring of 2011. Inspired by anti-dictatorship revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian populace began peaceful protests nationwide against President Bashar al-Assad. The government responded barbarically, first by quietly killing activists, then with kidnappings, rape, torture, and the killing of entire activist families. Mutilated bodies were dumped on sidewalks, ditches, and roadsides. Government troops eventually began open-firing on protesters. Civilians shot back and eventually answered atrocity with atrocity.
As the country collapsed into civil war, armed civilians coagulated into rebel bands. The regime army deployed and fanned out across Syria, shelling, bombing, even leveling entire neighborhoods indiscriminately (a tactic Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, used in 1982 to squash a similar uprising in Hama). Foreign volunteers and opportunists rushed to the fight and took sides. Accusations rang out, from both sides, of chemical weapons attacks. By the summer of 2014, the death toll had reached 200,000. At the time of this writing, nearly seven million Syrians have been displaced, more than three million have fled to nearby countries, and the millions remaining in place subsist in desperate living conditions.
Of the opportunists who entered the fray, ISIS, a jihadist group derived from the Iraq War, emerged as the premier rebel group in Syria, Iraq, and now globally. Through mindbending atrocities, millions of dollars from stolen oil, sly recruiting strategies, and stolen U.S. military equipment, ISIS now straddles and controls a vast stretch across Iraq and Syria.
The Sevenfold Spirit, who hovers over world events, is illuminating parallels for our own personal lives through this.
Some situations have only two realistic options: bad or worse.
At the time of this article, the Syria crisis has only two realistic options: bad or worse. On one hand, a psychopathic tyrant is mass-murdering his people, even using chemical weapons on women and babies. On the other hand, jihadists and other independent bands comprise the disintegrate and headless rebel force, the very thing sustaining its hydra-like resilience. Some of these bands are now fighting each other, creating a war within a war.
The dilemma here is obvious. Military intervention by the international community against Assad could spasm retaliation from his backers, namely Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and related allies. Some fear the crisis is one bad move away from World War III. Furthermore, even if, hypothetically, Assad were removed without conflagration, the chaotic bloodbath would continue as the heterogeneous rebel force would cannibalize itself battling for power.
Spiritual & Prophetic Parallels
In our personal lives, we will occasionally experience complicated predicaments with no squeaky clean solution. In his contemplative mining for wisdom, Solomon observed this too. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:15 (AMP): What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is defective and lacking cannot be counted.
It is in these hopelessly crooked situations that the Lord speaks Proverbs 3:6 to us. Using the same imagery from Ecclesiastes 1:15, Solomon says in the proverb (Young's Literal Translation): In all thy ways know thou Him, and He doth make straight thy paths.
Some of you are in predicaments with only two options: bad or worse. This is life on earth, it happens occasionally, especially when we coldshoulder the Lord's way and timing in all things. However, Proverbs 3:6 tells us to know the Lord intimately in all our ways (in every part of our being, in every situation), and when we do, He reciprocates by making straight our path (life direction). Notice the important distinction here between all the specific situations we face and our overall path/life direction. Certain situations may never be straightened as we idealize (remember Ecclesiastes 1:15), but our overall path or life direction will become straighter, straightened, and straight if we know Him in those situations. In other words, specific battles may be lost or irredeemable, but the Lord can use that loss in the bigger picture to win the overall war of your life. Know Him in every part of your being, in every situation, and the overall path of your life will become straighter and straighter and straighter. Expect nothing from the Lord, though, if you coldshoulder Him in your predicament.
Recognize and strategize when your opponent is the surrogate of a bigger, stronger enemy.
As many have rightly stated, America's contention with Syria is more appropriately America's contention with Iran. This contention began in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution and the Iran Hostage Crisis, yet has become reinfected in the last decade due to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Syria is a surrogate or proxy of Iran, making America's posture toward Syria nothing more than an emblem of its posture toward Iran. This has forced the White House to calibrate its Syria strategy multidimensionally and panoramically.
Syria is also a proxy of Russia, further expanding the butterfly effect of the crisis. America's contention with the (reinvigorated) Bear has resurged in recent years, again forcing the White House to strategize on more expansive levels.
Spiritual & Prophetic Parallels
Are you in a relational or social conflict? It is possible your opponent is simply under the looming shadow of someone in the background. That "someone" might be a person in the present, or, a person in their past whose echo still controls their heart. Therefore, calibrate your approach so that your larger and smaller opponent are being addressed.
Jeremiah's struggle with Zedekiah was actually his struggle with Nebuchadnezzar, since he was Nebuchadnezzar's vassal. Jeremiah finally defeated Zedekiah when Nebuzaradan, commander of Babylon's imperial guard, freed him permanently (Jer 40:1-6).
You, too, must recognize when there is someone bigger and badder behind the curtain. The person you are grappling with may not even want to conflict with you, but feels without choice and without voice because of the shadow over them. They may even agree with you or love you deep down. Or, they may be a willing proxy-antagonist against you. Either way, with the Lord's help, find out if you are conflicting with a proxy. Then prayerfully strategize accordingly.
Quickly resolve foreboding incidents as they germinate to prevent much more complicated, even catastrophic, problems down the road.
Syria's carnage-filled ruination of today is but a metastasis of what began as innocuous protests in March 2011. The very next month, in April, the Syrian army began slaughtering demonstrators across the country. America, the European Union, the Arab League, and other countries condemned the atrocities, but no one intervened in any significant way.
Today, some are prognosticating Syria will be a failed state for at least another generation. Certainly, for the foreseeable future, a working social contract is impossible.
A swift and strategic intervention by somebody (the Arab League or Russia, ideally) in April 2011 would have, at the very least, slowed or mitigated the catastrophic developments. Instead, the region is gashed open and beginning to bleed into Europe, most notably France and Belgium.
Spiritual & Prophetic Parallels
My goodness...what a lesson.
It is the little foxes that ruin a vineyard, not the rampage of elephants (Song 2:15). Humans, even born-again Christians, tend to bark while running away from germinating issues. But if we avoid foreboding incidents when they germinate, they will metastasize into complicated, maybe catastrophic, levels. Ecclesiastes 8:11 is so very relevant here (NIV): When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people's hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.
The governments of this world showed us what not to do when foreboding incidents germinate: bark while running away.
In your personal life, you cannot rush to put out every ankle fire that flares up. But, you must act swiftly and strategically when a flare-up is foreboding. That is an important word, do not forget it: foreboding. You can save yourself from complicated, or catastrophic, developments down the road.
If you stay cheek to cheek with the Lord daily, He will whisper you away from situations that will fizzle out on their own (or be resolved by someone else). Yet, He will also sound a stomach-turning alarm deep in your spirit when a germinating situation is truly foreboding. Do not ignore it.
Not every wrong can be righted, however, broad, emblematic, multidimensional ones must be.
Many Americans have thoughtfully asked: Slaughter and genocide are happening in numerous places, why intervene in Syria? We can't possibly right every wrong...right?
Very true. Neither America nor the international community can right every wrong in troubled nations, especially when they seem so hopelessly and perpetually self-destructive. However, intervention is what I call a "mandate of must" when a wrong is broad, emblematic, and multidimensional. These are three important words.
By broad I mean wrongs that include or affect multiple nations and threaten to conflagrate entire regions, or even the world. By emblematic I mean wrongs that are prone to copycatting and further escalation by others. By multidimensional I mean wrongs that threaten a plurality of realms simultaneously: international relations, economic structures, transnational humanitarian issues (refugees), unsecured chemical weapons, unsecured weapons of mass destruction or the necessary ingredients, power vacuums with extensive implications, and so on.
Not every wrong possesses this exigent magnitude. America and the international community need to discern wrongs that are truly exigent--those that are broad, emblematic, and multidimensional--and focus there.
Spiritual & Prophetic Parallels
Evil must be rightly prioritized, it must be sifted and discerned for what I call the "mandate of must". There is only so much time or energy or resource available, therefore, evil has to be triaged according to exigent magnitude. If a nation or individual gets tied up in a smaller and less consequential redemption project, it/he/she cannot fully confront the exigent evil that is sprawling with consequence. This is quite a sly tactic of the prince of this world, Satan, that ancient Serpent. He sustains larger evils by enticing us to drain ourselves on smaller ones. While you exhaust yourself stamping out ankle fires, your house is burning down.
We cannot right every wrong in our family, relationships, church, workplace, or society. If we attempt to, we sacrifice our own healthy infrastructure, drain time and treasure, and feed a Me-centered savior complex. But if we stay cheek to cheek with the Lord daily and stay deep in Scripture, He will nudge us toward the redemption projects that are the most consequential to His plan.
Docile detente does not work with terror-sponsors, terror-proxies, or terror-sympathizers.
Early in his presidency, President Obama sought a fresher, friendlier approach to the Middle East. With phrases and displays of docile detente, he courted the Middle Eastern soul with "American humility", curtsying clear of exceptionalist or superpower themes.
However, as inexperienced leaders come to realize, simplistic and idealistic passions are often traumatized by the blunt-force of inveterate realities. Certain Middle Eastern elements perceived the President's docile overtures as weakness and permission. The result? A murderous tyrant flexes in Syria, bloodbathing the nation into total collapse. ISIS carves out a headquartering enclave in Raqqa. Iran whistles while they work even harder and more deceitfully on their "Wipe Israel Off The Map" nuclear bomb. Russian president Vladimir Putin sneeringly reawakens the cocky Russian Bear, stealing Crimea and designing secretly on more territory. Little man complex Kim Jong-un tests new fighting rhetoric on America and South Korea, and, arbitrarily captures and imprisons Americans.
Do not overlook the telling chronology: all these happened after the President's early overtures and first impressions. Sure, such escalations could have happened even with an Americanizing, hegemonic, alpha wolf president. Yet the deeper lesson remains: docile detente does not work with terror-sponsors, terror-proxies, or terror-sympathizers.
Spiritual & Prophetic Parallels
Docile, diplomatic detente works only with reasonable individuals. Are you trying to appease toxic or power-craving people? Your kindness may be heartfelt, but such individuals are too inveterate to rightly handle it. To them, you come across as giving away power.
Be sweet to a rabid dog and it will tear you to shreds. Those are Jesus' words in Matthew 7:6 (NIV): Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Lionlike words from a gentle, docile Lamb.
How do we deal with inveterate people? Through strength of word and action. With lionlike confidence, Jesus roared at the toxic scribes and Pharisees, calling them "children of hell" (Mt 23:15) and "blind fools" (v17) and "hypocrites" (v23) and "whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones" (v27) and "vipers condemned to hell" (v33).
Some people will never be won with kindness. Accept it. They can only be subdued and managed by someone stronger defining the boundaries through strong word and action.
Leadership nature and competence is revealed through crisis.
Throughout the Syria Crisis the true colors of several leaders have come out. By that I mean, their nature and aptitude as leaders.
Syria's Assad has shown himself to be an animal, as has ISIS's al-Baghdadi. Russia's Putin has shown himself to be snakelike and decisive. European leaders barked while running away...until they got massacred on their own soil by ISIS spillover and expansionism. Muslim/Arab leaders, in general, have also barked while running away, lending embarrassingly small support to fight ISIS, and even less to intervene in Syria. U.S. president Obama has revealed he is not able to confront large-scale evil with strength and strategy.
Crisis reveals so much about people, especially leaders. In a moment of crisis, King Saul displayed deep fear, impetuousness, and offered an unauthorized offering (1Sam 13). David, in his crisis, sought the Lord relentlessly and patiently, and the strategy for recovery and success was illuminated (chapter 30).
Spiritual & Prophetic Parallels
One thing my father modeled very, very well for me was crisis competence. Though our relationship was not perfect, this is one paternal imprint I have become supremely grateful for as a man and a Christian leader.
Growing up I watched my dad resolve crisis after crisis head on. He was like a Rottweiler, fearless and proactive, solving almost any problem quickly and efficiently. During such times he seemed like Superman. Those experiences imprinted me with a soulical template for crisis competence and problem-solving. As I matured in the Lord, He added His own "paternal imprint" on top of the existing one, sanctifying it into an anointed crisis competence.
I share this only to illustrate a point. You learn crisis competence through an earthly father and heavenly Father (women included). If there is an insufficient father experience on either level, crisis will freak you out. It will overwhelm you and send you into a panic. You will bark while running away, or simply run away without even barking. Or, you will overreact and make an even bigger mess.
If this is you, seek your heavenly Father for this specific paternal imprint. And, draw near to trustworthy godly men that can contribute to the human version of the imprint.