For the past few years I’ve had a fascination with observing and analyzing the many ways that religious and political beliefs interact with each other. For instance, I invented a new game last year while watching the Democratic and Republican National Conventions: how long does it take to hear 10 quotes/allusions to the Bible? [Answer: Not very long, for either convention. Verses and passages about Israel, Jesus, or the Church were regularly applied to the United States of America.] Since my town in Texas seems to be a major intersection between Evangelicalism and the Republican Party, I am given many opportunities to think through the various ways that biblical interpretation often influences politics (for better or for worse).
As the US gears up for a possible war with Syria, I’ve heard many make the claim that the increasing conflict in Syria is actually a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The primary texts cited are Isaiah 17:1 and Jeremiah 49:23-27, which both speak of Damascus (the capital of Syria) being destroyed. This has led many Christians, trained in reading the Bible as a code-book for current events, to announce that a war on Syria is inevitable, should be supported, and will perhaps usher forward the second coming of Jesus.
To be clear, I firmly believe such interpretations are mistaken. I think interpretations of this flavor lack a clear understanding of the task of hermeneutics (while the Bible might have been written for us, it was not written to us) and the history of interpretation (almost every generation has predicted that apocalyptic biblical prophecies would be fulfilled in their lifetime). Both prophecies should be read as being fulfilled with the Assyrian destruction of Syria in 732 B.C. Regardless, I have no doubt that people will continue to interpret these verses to suggest that the Bible predicts a modern war against Syria (and any most likely any other such wars in the foreseeable future).
Here are my questions:
If you believe that the destruction of Syria plays a necessary role in the fulfillment of prophecy, does that mean you must necessarily support the war in Syria?
Do these sorts of interpretations hinder one’s ability to faithfully consider their ethical responsibilities in the world?
How can we avoid the dangers of misinterpreting Scripture to support our political fancies? (While I’m not suggesting that this interpretation is a parallel, readers of the Bible can never forget that the Germans employed Romans 13:1-7 pretty convincingly during the Holocaust.)
What do you think?