It is impossible to avoid the shocking, blatant and daily murder and massacre of men, women and children in Syria as it flashes on our television and computer screens. I see these images and ask myself, how can these things happen in 2013 after what occurred during World War II, and more recently the genocide in Rwanda? Why aren’t world powers taking necessary steps to stop this injustice?
A few months ago I was preaching in our congregation about why we are so surprised and overwhelmed when we see gross displays of evil in our world today. I reflected on our astonishment when we see atrocities against other humans, extensive theft by greedy heads of banks, or the widening gap between rich and poor. I think one of the main reasons for our disbelief is that we have not fully comprehended human nature – that all people are inherently evil and capable of doing horrible things to each other.
This reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to us in the book of Romans 3:9-18, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poisons of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
First of all, despite Paul’s words to us teaching us that none is righteous, we have embraced a worldview that all of us are good, and that this world is getting better and better. We have witnessed many technological advances and the growth of human rights’ activism. And still, in spite of all this good and the progress we have made, we are paralyzed by the continual bloodshed in Syria and other places in the world.
Second, we not only act surprised by this kind of evil, but we also fall into the trap of thinking this evil is “over there,” far removed from us. We can find ourselves thinking, “They’re primitive in their thinking and actions, and we’re enlightened so as not to engage in this type of violence,” and it becomes an “us versus them” pattern of thinking. We easily forget our recent history, of what happened in places like Bosnia and Serbia, because it happened to “them.” That is, until the next school massacre or other evil act is perpetrated in our community.
Third, we can react in a way that makes it worse rather than better. Sometimes we use our power in a way that escalates suffering rather than solves it. We need to ask ourselves, “Are we looking at other ways of dealing with inter-generational ethnic, tribal, and religious rivalries and offenses? Or are we feeding and fueling the vicious cycle of revenge and retaliation? Are we so paralyzed by hatred we cannot break this cycle?” Look at what began as fighting against soldiers, and it has spun out of control, resulting in the murder of thousands of women and children. This cycle of hatred moved from one people group to another.
This leads me to say that each one of us as individuals, organizations, and congregations should not be passive, looking only for military intervention to solve atrocities like those in Syria. Instead, each society needs to actively live out Jesus’s teaching from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Resisting the urge to repay vengeance with vengeance, we break the cycle of revenge and retaliation.
Therefore, the Sermon on the Mount is something that we need to practice in our daily lives in order to avoid the poisonous and deadly fruit that we are seeing right now. This is not idealism; it is something we need to take an active role in, especially on a grassroots level.My hope and desire is for more grassroots organizations to take an active role in peace-building and reconciliation. Professor Glen Stassen eloquently states in his book, Just Peacemaking, “We can change a little bit of the tide of evil.” This echoes Paul in Romans 12:28, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Realizing that we can take part in changing the tide little by little, we are also aware of our human limitations. Without the help of God as demonstrated on the cross and his intervention in history, there is no hope for us. Ultimately, God will deal with the great evil.
Musalaha is a grassroots organization working with women, youth and children. Please join us in prayer for our neighboring countries. We pray for the end of the violence and conflict, and also that these difficult times would result in more people and organizations practicing Jesus’s teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Living out Jesus’s mandate to us is hard, but transforming, with the power to break boundaries, shatter cycles of violence, and give birth to a new way of doing things, both here in the Middle East, and throughout our world.
By Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D