Enmity and the Syrian Ambassador

Imad Moustapha is the Syrian ambassador to the United States. He is Western-educated (Ph.D. from Surrey, United Kingdom), witty, and loves some of the greatest music ever composed in Europe: Bach’s cello suites; Mahler’s symphonies. He comes across as fair-minded (if understandably biased toward Syrian interests), proud of Arab (and particularly Syrian) culture, and passionate for learning and life.

He is also the official representative of a country that we officially consider an enemy, which, I suppose, makes the ambassador an enemy too.

Christian theology is, of its essence, about the relationship of Other to Self. Trinitarian theology (to rashly sum up 2000 years of conversation and debate in one sentence) understands the very nature of divinity as the participation of Persons one with another, in a unity that does not erase distinction. Christ on the Cross is the divine refusal to seek just revenge for having been wronged; put positively, Christ on the Cross (to paraphrase Miroslav Volf) is God’s act of making God’s very Self an open space that welcomes the Other, turning enmity into the possibility of embrace.

Christian discipleship– to be a follower of Jesus– means imitating Christ in this assertion of refusing to participate in cycles of revenge. (This assertion of refusing revenge can operate at all levels of human relationships: spousal, familial, communal, national, and international. For Christians, this refusal of revenge is the life-affirming, life-transforming power of God.)

All of which brings us back to the Syrian ambassador.

US policy toward Syria will be determined by the forces of politics. However, that is not– and never will be– the whole story. Additionally, thoughtful Christian theology reminds us of another power that is always at work, if mostly unnoticed– the power of seeing divinity in the Other, even in the midst of distrust and enmity. Jesus was shrewdly correct: we need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, at one and the very same time.

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