War used to be so simple. Country A attacked
country B and if either needed help, whatever
countries they had treaties with would join the
fight. It's a bit more complicated today.
The lands where Jesus once walked are today a mess of inter-cultural and inter-religious mistrust and animosity; kind of like it was back in Jesus’ time, but with heavy weapons. Let’s take a look at Syria, where many of our earliest churches (including Antioch, the church that Peter and Paul used as a base for their earliest mission trips) are at risk of destruction. If I’m following things correctly:
First, there was a basic uprising. The Syrian people were tired of Assad’s tactics, so they rebelled. The rebels who went up against the Syrian army belong to dozens of different tribes of Islamic faith. Soon, the not-really-Islamic “followers of Islam” (or Radicals) saw their opportunity to trick or just overtly attack smaller moderate factions and tribes. The radicals took over moderate towns and start enforcing their strict interpretation of ancient Islamic law.
The Christian Militias (and we’re not talking about folks armed with Bibles and crosses, but rather fully-armed and trained fighters) took up defensive positions around their towns and set up checkpoints. They do not want to go on the offensive, but they fly the flag of Syria and declared their alliance with the Assad regime. (This is largely because King Assad permits open practice of religion without persecution, something the Christians cannot trust will continue if a radical Islamic group wins the revolution.)
The United States, Turkey and Europe express support for the militants fighting Assad, but offer no real supplies or equipment to help. Meanwhile, Russia continues to re-arm Assad and his army. The rebels need weapons and reinforcements.
Radical Islamic groups from other countries seize the opportunity and send men and weapons “to help the uprising”. Moderate Islamic groups immediately recognize that al Qaeda is the main supplier. More infighting occurs among the rebels as groups who refuse to recognize or pay homage to Al Qaeda are attacked and/or eliminated.
In the middle of this chaos, the Islamic State (or the Levant) breaks away from Al Qaeda, declares itself the only true army of Islam, proclaims their leader the top Muslim cleric and goes to work establishing their caliphate in Western Syria and much of Iraq.
So now, Assad is fighting moderates and the Islamic State; the moderates are fighting Assad and the Islamic State. Western powers are bombing the Islamic State, thus helping Assad, whom they really want to see overthrown.
The Kurdish tribes are taking on the brunt of the ground fighting against IS. They asked Turkey to allow their allies to cross the Turkish-Syrian border with additional weapons. Instead Turkey bombed the Kurds in Turkey, meaning the Kurds are now fighting the Islamic State, Syria and Turkey- each of whom is fighting against the other.
I will not try to detail the three factions in Iraq, the 30-year war between Turkey and the Kurds, Iran’s role and motive in defending Iraq, what happened when Al Nussra attacked the UN troops protecting the Golan Heights or the Israel/Gaza conflict.
Nor will I mention Lebanon’s role in the Syrian conflict and the potential impact of Libya’s continued in-fighting, the apparent civil war about to erupt in Yemen, or how Qatar seems to be financing all sides. Instead I will look to God and ask, “Is there another Joshua, or Joab or a King David’s army in the wings?”
What if a Christian militia captain in Syria woke up one night to find a couple of mysterious figures in his bedroom? They tell him to not be afraid because God has great plans for him. “God has confused the armies of Islam so that they are fighting each other! Now is the time to attack!” Next thing we know, Christianity is the main religion of the Middle East and Antioch is once again the most important mission church in the world!
That would be great. I would probably be all excited about it until I started reading the Bible again. John (in Rev 13) warns us that there will be a great war between all nations; and that from that war will emerge a victor who will fool us into thinking he is our savior. Many, “even Christians”, will be fooled and turn away from the real Christ to follow the false words of this antichrist and his sidekick, a false prophet.
So if this Syrian captain took over the Middle East and he garnered all the power that comes with such a conquest (not to mention, all the oil!) I’d have to be pretty wary of him. This would be especially true if he used that power to “settle” the other conflicts around the world and convinced Netanyahu that that the former Syria and Iraq is now the real Israel.
The final victory will be won by God’s army descending from Heaven, led by Jesus on a white horse (Rev 19:11-16). I’m willing to wait for that to be sure. In the meantime, all we can do is fight for Christ with the tools Jesus gave us: live a good life as an example to others; preach the Word; love Him and love one another. But mostly, we need to pray for help and guidance in dealing with the conflicts of today.
Let’s pray especially hard for the Christian heroes leading the fight. Thousands of Christians have given their lives this year by refusing to deny Jesus in the face of Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Malaka and others. Hundreds-of-thousands more live under the threat of those groups today. Christian pastors stand up to drug lords in Colombia and Mexico despite the deaths of several of their brothers. North Koreans worship in their homes knowing that their government will throw them into hard-labor camps if they are caught. Faithful Christians keep challenging the Chinese government over their restrictions, risking jail or “disappearance” for raising their voices.
Let’s pray hard for their safety, but also that our faith will always be strong enough to stand up to such challenges!
November 1st and 2nd have been designated as international days of prayer by many large Christian and other faith-based organizations. World hunger and persecution of Christians are the main focus of most of these groups. You can Google “International Day of Prayer” to join or start a group prayer effort in your neighborhood!