Barack Obama is in an impossible situation.
It seems clear the Syrian regime has been using chemical weapons and what is more, using them against civilians. This does cross a line, one which strangely has been observed since 1918, even by the most heinous of regimes.
Again it seems obvious that enforcing international law is the responsibility of the United Nations. However, that means allowing a veto to Russian President Putin who has strategic reasons for supporting the Assad regime.
What is more, and it this which concerns most people, taking military action may well cause more problems than it solves. This is the view of our Archbishop who argues that military action in Syria could have “unforeseeable consequences” across the entire Muslim world.
But Justin goes on to acknowledge that there is no “good answer” to the crisis in Syria and that a simple solution “just doesn’t exist”.
In other words, whatever President Obama decides to do, it will be seen as a terrible mistake. And that includes doing nothing. An appalling dilemma. I can understand why he is consulting Congress, but the buck stops with him.
“The sad duty of politics, “observes the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “is to establish justice in a sinful world.”
And how does God establish justice?
It was the apostle Paul writing to the church at the centre of Empire who teaches that the he authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1). Strong words, especially when you think that he is speaking of Caesar.
But they are established for a purpose – to establish justice, even in a corrupt world. Paul argues that “they are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” That is why “they bear the sword,” the threat of force, through the police and through the army.
And this need to establish justice is what is challenging the American president. Again, it is an appallingly difficult problem rising from an appalling situation.
The Collect for Pentecost (Book of Common Prayer) has the petition : “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things.” I think all we can do is really the best thing we can do is to pray for President Obama, indeed all our leaders, that the Holy Spirit may give them this right judgment in all things.
We live in a world in which innocent men, women and children are being gassed by sarin. As Christians, indeed as human beings, we are not allowed to be indifferent to their suffering. The dilemma is how does God want us to respond, how to ensure that justice prevails.
So we boldly pray that the G20 summit today in St Petersburg makes significant progress in this key area. Above all, that the key player is the Holy Spirit so that his justice may be established in this wayward world.