As Iraq continues to spiral toward chaos, and is doing so in the Facebook era, the one thing we should want to avoid is directionless or aimless outrage. Anger under such circumstances is certainly appropriate and necessary, but like a fist, it needs somewhere to land. I am writing primarily about the treatment of Christians there by ISIS, but of course that cannot be at all separated from a host of other issues and circumstances. Let me start with the more important, and finish with a few related observations.
1. There truly are evil men in the world, and this is what imprecatory psalms were made for. This is why we have them. There are men who will grin for the camera over the prospect of beheading Christian children, and our response to them should be to pray the words of God back to Him.
“Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: Break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord” (Ps. 58:6).
“Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: Seek out his wickedness till thou find none” (Ps. 10:15).
Our psalter has this second example rendered as “O God, come down and break their evil arms.” In the face of the kind of evil that is abroad in the world, evangelical Christians need to stop filling up their worship services with sentimentalist treacle, and worship biblically in a very dark world. We are confronted with a great and growing evil, and we are discovering that we do not have the liturgical vocabulary to respond appropriately at all. When we sing or pray the psalms, all of them, there are two consequences that should be mentioned. One, we are praying in the will of God, and He hears such prayers. Second, we discover that praying and singing biblically transforms us. This really is the need of the hour.
We need to become the kind of people capable of standing against this kind of thing. Read Chesterton’s great poem about the battle of Lepanto, written one year shy of a century ago, and plead with God to raise up a fitting leader for our day. “But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.”
2. This is a grotesque evil, but it is not the only one. We are appalled at the open insolence of ISIS, and how they gloat over the killing of their enemy’s children. They are demented and cruel, but not as demented as we are. They at least do it to their enemy’s children. That’s not how we do it over here in our splendid democracy — here we chop our own children up into little pieces. But evil remains evil.
This particular form of evil is alien to us, and so we are shocked by it. We have gotten accustomed to our own forms of evil, even those who have stood faithfully against it — but at the end of the day, it always gets to the same place, which is the lap of Molech. The devil hates children, as do his servants everywhere. The only difference between the behavior of ISIS and the platform of the Democratic Party is the age of the victims and the presence of cameras. This means that the imprecatory psalms should be prayed with applications to more than one hellhole. Their black flag flies over black hearts, true enough. But our red, white, and blue flies over the black robes that consigned fifty million Americans to the gaping maw of the cruel cash registers of Planned Parenthood. This is why there will be no successful stand against the likes of ISIS without repentance and a broken appeal to Jesus. Until we turn back to His blood, we will continue to shed one another’s.
3. We see in all of this yet another instances of the impotence and ideological provincialism of secularism. The world is not what secularists say it is, the heart of man is not what secularists say it is, and the progressive march of time fixes nothing. The spectacle of our diplomats huffing and puffing over what certain people are willing to do “in the 21st century,” as though time had anything to do with it, is a gaudy display of impotent futility. Radical Muslims know what they want, and deracinated Whigs are trying to fix the world with the platitudes and bromides they learned years ago in some kindergarten in Massachusetts. It will not work, it cannot work. Blowing sunshine will not help in the Ukraine, or in Gaza, or in Syria, or in Iraq.
4. Bombing runs are not to be used as gestures. They are a tactic of war, and one of the principles of war is the objective. What is the objective? Can we tell if we have accomplished it? If Obama authorizes the dropping of bombs because this will be an instance of him “doing something,” and will be helpful in getting critics back here to lay off, that would be just one more instance of aimless killing. This is the difference between political bombing and military bombing. Political bombing just gives the natives more rubble to sort through after the geo-political stupidity has moved on. Military bombing would have an announced measurable objective, which would be something like “the establishment of a secure, independent Kurdistan.” That would make some kind of sense — but ad hoc bombing is the kind of thing that made this region of the world what it is today.
5. We mustn’t pretend, and shouldn’t kid ourselves. If you insist that the carnage there is none of our business, however tragic it might be, then you are a consistent non-interventionist, or isolationist. But if you want something effective done, then you are arguing for empire or resurgent colonialism, whatever you might want to call it. You can call it the “international community,” or the “coalition of the willing,” or a “humanitarian intervention,” but at the end of the day it is a rejection of self-determination. Self-determination is what we have there now.
To say that intervention is some form of “empire” does not mean that all imperial interventions are wise and judicious. Most of them are not. We are still paying for how imperialists drew up the borders in the Middle East after the First World War. If we blunder around enough this time, we might be able to wreck things for another century to two.
So while I believe a case for intervention could be made, I believe that the chances are better than two to one that with our current leaders, our current faithlessness, our current compromises, our current wooly-mindedness, and our current political correctness, we are not qualified and would only make things far worse. Making the rubble bounce is not nation-building. What good are smart bombs when our seers and prophets all have NPR book bags over their heads?
I know. The argument comes back — we have to do something. I know we do. So start with repentance. Start with Jesus. End the slaughter inside our own borders so that our horror at what they are doing is not the horror of high hypocrisy. Pray that American preachers would repent of their cowardice and start preaching the gospel high and inside, and pray that we would elect national leaders who actually could do some international good.
What we have now is a giant on the ground in the midst of an epileptic fit, doing a lot of damage by his thrashing around. It is not a serious proposal to suggest that he thrash “some more in Iraq for a bit.”