January 14, 2014

An Assault by Grace

By Brittany Tedesco

“The Cold War ended not in a nuclear inferno, but in a blaze of candles in the churches of Eastern Europe.” –Sam Nunn, former U.S. senator

“Faith-based diplomacy”. . . as a solution to national conflicts?

Interesting concept.

So how´s that supposed to work in the real world? In a world like Syria, where evil seemingly rules and where terrorists aren´t exactly ready to sit down for a cup of tea and play nice.

Faith-based diplomacy? There? To borrow Yoda´s phraseology, skeptical I am.

Yet this was the solution presented to us in staff meeting this week from visiting pastor and scholar, R. Smith*.

Smith wasn´t wearing rose-colored glasses. In fact, he told us that even after all the bloodshed (130,000 lives lost since 2011), it´s likely Syria is only in the beginning stages of civil war.

“Civil wars typically last an average of ten years,” Smith said.

Syria´s war is likely to last even longer than that.

According to the blog, Political Violence @ A Glance, “the greater the number of factions, the longer a civil war tends to last. Syria´s war is being fought between the Assad government and at least 13 major rebel groups.”

The rebel groups are only one level of this conflict, which is wrapped in layer upon layer of complexity. Smith further dissected the war by discussing the long-standing tensions between multiple communities of people. The Sunnis have persecuted the Alawites, and vice versa. The Kurds, Druze, Circassians, and Christians have faced persecution from numerous sources.

The fighting has only ignited a powder keg of animosities among people groups who´ve been trying to live in the same country while operating under different religious laws and systems.

The internal conflict has bled into an international one involving several countries.

Smith admitted it´s utter chaos. . . But then he pointed us to the power of grace.

He named conflict after horrific conflict that, because of grace, ended in peace.

In his book, What´s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey writes “In 1989 alone ten nations comprising half a billion people experienced nonviolent revolutions. In many of these, the Christian minority played a crucial role.”

Yancey describes how nearly the entire population of Leipzig in East Germany marched through dark streets, candles in hand, singing hymns...promoting an end to the Cold War. “Police and soldiers with all their weapons seemed powerless against such a force,” he writes.

A similar thing occurred on the night the Berlin Wall was torn down. “A huge banner appeared across a Leipzig street: Wir danken Dir, Kirche (We thank you, Church).”

So what about Syria? Two million have already evacuated the country, and an estimated 5,000 people continue to leave each and every day because of the blood that´s been shed.

A remnant remains because of blood that´s been shed.

It´s the blood of Christ that covers the small and dwindling group of Syrian Christians, willing to stay and demonstrate grace.

“We cannot underestimate the value of the small number of Christians in Syria,” Christian Aid president, Cynthia Finley, told me yesterday when she stopped by my office. “Even though the lights are few, it´s so much better than complete darkness. What would happen to a country without any Christian presence?

A haunting question. One I hope we´ll never have to answer. One we won´t have to answer as long as Christians in this world are willing to be the peacekeepers—are willing to live out 1 Peter 3:9: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

“How do we enter into each other´s traumas?” Smith asked us.

His question assumes we are actually willing to enter into another´s trauma. Many aren´t willing.

Jesus was.

On a day long ago, in the city of Nazareth, He stood up in a synagogue to read what the prophet Isaiah had written about Him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Jesus entered into our trauma. He bore our sin, our hatred, our evil. . . without participating in it.

Through His Spirit, Syrian believers are able to bear the sins of others by refusing to participate in the enmity. They understand grace.

Faith-based diplomacy? If it´s just a fancy term for grace, I get it.

I don´t know how the conflict will end in Syria. What I do know is that Jesus said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

“Christians are storming the gates and they will prevail,” Yancey writes. “No matter how it looks at any given point in history, the gates guarding the powers of evil will not withstand an assault by grace.”

* Name changed for security reasons