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Syria and the Belly of the Whale

09-15-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

This week is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a war Syria launched against Israel, in what the then Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad declared as a "war of annihilation". And in a bit of historical irony once again Syria and another Syrian dictator named Assad is front and center in world affairs. Since the beginnings of the civil war in Syria I have been thinking that this conflict has the potential to draw the entire world into a massive war. Isn't it amazing how the same countries that we read about in the pages of the Bible still continue to make world headlines? There is obviously, as usual a larger story going on, one that shows the truth of God's Word and the biblical view of history. How things proceed could have much bigger implications that anyone realizes.

Ironically these events are being played out during the Jewish High Holydays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The days in between the two holy days are days of reflection and clarification of priorities and for committing oneself to taking responsibility. During the afternoon Yom Kippur Service the Book of Jonah is read, the classic tale of flight from responsibility. Jonah was called by God to confront a moral evil in the city of Nineveh. Jonah refused since he did not want his enemies to be saved. Jonah however got a chance to reflect on his refusal in the belly of the big fish and decided reluctantly to accept the task God had given him. He understood that no matter how difficult the task, Nineveh being a very large city and he an unlikely messenger, he nonetheless needed to take action to achieve the greatest good. Eventually by taking responsibility Jonah was able to save the population of the large city of Nineveh.

But Jonah's first reaction was to run from his responsibility. Jonah not only had a deep hatred of the people of Nineveh, he also didn't want to give up his comfortable life. Too often we can choose a life of ease and comfort rather than taking on the hard responsibilities that have been placed on our shoulders. We often want to be out in front but we compromise too often and fail to achieve some of the most important things in life. And we know that failure to confront a problem today only means we will have to tackle an even bigger problem down the road.

We all want to succeed in life, be in first place, and achieve our goals. But too often we don't feel like putting forth the effort. So the red line that we put on ourselves we all to easily move in order to maintain our comfort and thus fail to live up to our true potential. We all too easily rationalize our destructive behaviors and justify our failure to fulfill our responsibilities. Ever go on a diet and give up? Then you know what I mean. We all have to walk the path of Jonah, face ourselves, our resistance to God, our clinging to our own comfortable ways and refusal to embrace our God-given tasks.

When it comes to Syria we should consider the lessons of Jonah carefully. Obviously the US has been given the mantle of leadership. At times leadership is a heavy burden as it is now for us after so many years of war and fighting terrorists. Yet failure to handle our responsibility can have dire consequences. The question is not should we act but how we should act. The issue at hand is the chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria. Syria has had them for over 30yrs. Aside for Assad possibly using them during this civil war, he has never used them against Israel or any other country, so it is unlikely he would do so anytime soon. But the al Qaeda factions and the other extremist Muslim rebels fighting in Syria would surely use them against Israel and others including the US, if they ever get their hands on them. That is what we have to prevent. Oddly at this point Assad is the only one keeping the rebels from getting hands on those WMD's. So what good would it do to destabilize Assad as bad as he is? The unintended consequences could be grave. Punishing Assad for using chemical weapons, if he in fact did, is obviously a tricky proposition.

Isaiah 17 foresees Damascus, the capital of Syria as becoming "a heap of ruins" overnight and being uninhabitable forever. How could this come about? One possible scenario is that if the terrorists get hold of the chemical weapons they would gladly use them or threaten to use them against the Jews. And if that scenario comes to pass, Israel might respond to that existential threat by using nuclear warheads that could reduce Damascus to an uninhabitable heap of ruins overnight. In light of Isaiah 17 we should be very concerned about those chemical weapon stockpiles.

Despite the nincompoopery that passes as diplomacy and leadership in Washington, God may have opened up a path for our leaders to forestall the above scenario without using military force, much as Jonah's preaching spared Nineveh for 40yrs.

Like Jonah the US is in a rather lonely spot but still we have been called upon to take action to ensure the protection of human life in the greatest measure possible.

Love, Fr. John B.

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