A Monologue On Syria


A Monologue On Syria
Brian Zahnd

Love your enemies…
And you will be children of the Most High.
For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
You must be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

So Jesus’ fame spread throughout all Syria.

I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
–Bob Dylan


“What about Syria?”

The world again convulses in brutality. Another macabre dance around the maypole of violence. The killing escalates. Shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, bombed, gassed, the bodies pile up, the death toll mounts. It’s a world gone wrong.

“A red line has been crossed.”

The red line was crossed a long time ago — it was crossed when Cain killed Abel. We’ve been living on the wrong side of the red line ever since the first city was built with bloody hands. Killing innocents for the sake of power is nothing new. It’s what we humans do.

“But surely you condemn the use of chemical weapons?”

I do. As I condemn nuclear weapons. And while we’re at, it I condemn cruise missiles and billion dollar bombers too. Isaiah has already condemned swords and spears — he says they’re nothing but raw material for plowshares and pruning hooks. So let’s condemn all the weapons of war! Let’s turn tanks into tractors, missile silos into grain silos.

“We have to be realistic.”

We have to be faithful. Being “realistic” does not exempt us from faithfulness to Christ. If we tell ourselves that Jesus has called us to “change the world” then we quickly find ways to justify our violent means. But Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world — he calls us to be faithful to his ways of peace. If in our faithfulness to Jesus we happen to change the world, fine, but our first call is to remain faithful. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not because this is an “effective tactic,” but because this is what God is like.

“Sometimes violence is the only way.”

If we think violence is a viable option you can be sure we will resort to it. If violence is on the table, imagination is out the window. First century Jerusalem could not imagine any other way than violent revolution against the Romans. Jesus could. Jesus not only imagined the alternative, he embodied it. On the cross. And he calls us to follow him. If we don’t know (or refuse to know) the things that make for peace, we march blindly toward another fiery Gehenna.

“But the great leaders say we must respond with violence.”

They are great leaders, they are not wise leaders. They are heroic leaders, they are not saintly leaders. As long as we listen to the great instead of the wise, the heroes instead of the saints, we will choose the way of war over the way of peace. Tell me, where is the wisdom in this: “There’s too much violence in the world. We must drop a bomb on it.” Political leaders of nation-states are wedded to the ways and means of violent power. It’s what lies at the foundation of their nation-states. It’s what they know. But what do the saints and sages of the church have to say? What does Jesus have to say?

“You’re not being practical.”

No, I am not.

“You’re being foolish.”

It depends on whose lens you’re looking through. I grant that there are ways of looking at what I’m saying as foolishness. But I also insist that to live Christlike in a Caesar-like world is to risk being called a fool or worse.

“Are you saying we should do nothing?”

Only if praying and fasting and weeping and grieving and giving and serving and loving and prophesying and witnessing and rebuking and reconciling are doing nothing.

“Are you satisfied with your responses?”

No, I am not.

“So what are you going to do?”

Join with the church in praying and fasting for peace on Saturday, September 7.

“Is there anything else you want to say?”

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.


(The artwork is an enhanced thermal satellite image of Syria.)