Uncovering truth in Syria

A Christian Science perspective: How underwater mines were discovered and defused during World War II, and some pertinent biblical insights shed light on how our prayers can help the situation in Syria.

It is frequently said that truth is the first casualty of war. Combatants employ a wide range of tactics and strategies to deceive their enemies. Evidence that appears to be valid may turn out to be untrustworthy, and crucial evidence may be missing.

As the international community seeks incontrovertible evidence about who perpetrated the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria (and why), there are claims and counter-claims from different sides. Action based on ill-founded judgment could escalate a dangerous situation.

When the world is facing difficult issues, I find inspiration in the Bible. At a time when the Pharisees were angry with Christ Jesus and seeking to trap him, he counseled his followers, saying, “[T]here is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known” (Luke 12:2). Here is calm assurance that an all-knowing God can reveal what we need to know in order to judge wisely and proceed safely. Prayer along these lines can bring invaluable guidance in times of war.

An example of the application of such prayer was described to me and others by Peter J. Henniker-Heaton, who was a contributor to the Christian Science periodicals throughout World War II and beyond. In the opening months of the war, the shipping in British coastal waters suffered heavy losses from German mines. London was the busiest port, and more than 100 ships were destroyed in the Thames Estuary alone.

There was an urgent need to uncover and defuse a mine to understand its mechanism. Many people must have been praying at this time. Mr. Henniker-Heaton was one of a team of Christian Scientists who prayed continually about this situation, acknowledging the power of an all-knowing, all-loving, and ever-present God, to uncover any evil. Subsequently, in November 1939, German aircraft were observed dropping mines offshore in a place where they could be uncovered as the tide receded. One was retrieved and found to operate by magnetic influence. That is, it was not a visible mine floating on the surface but one that lay unseen on the seabed until activated by a ship passing nearby. Given this understanding of the mechanism, ships were then protected by wrapping electric cables around their metal hulls to protect them by disrupting the magnetic field. 

The ability of an all-knowing God to uncover evil is not restricted to finding and interpreting the role of physical objects but extends to uncovering and neutralizing the influence of harmful thoughts. Luke’s Gospel continues: “Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light” (12:3).

This reminds me that when the kings of Israel and Syria were involved in a war in biblical times, the Israelites were saved from Syrian ambush several times because the prophet Elisha warned them not to go there (see II Kings 6:8-12). The Bible records that a servant of the king of Syria told him, “The prophet Elisha ... telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.”

That example is not to imply that Syria should always be cast in the role of the oppressor and assigned responsibility for recent actions on the basis of biblical precedent. Currently some factions who have joined the rebels appear to have even more extreme motives and violent behavior than the Syrian administration itself, and the Syrian people are children of God, deserving freedom, peace, and safety. Instead, the example shows that prayer and divine guidance can bring solutions beyond the scope of human reasoning.

I have gained some understanding of this process through the words of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. She wrote: “The rays of infinite Truth, when gathered into the focus of ideas, bring light instantaneously, whereas a thousand years of human doctrines, hypotheses, and vague conjectures reveal no such effulgence” (p. 504).

Finally, as the mechanism of the mines during World War II needed to be uncovered to neutralize their effects, my prayers have shown me how to uncover and rectify some limitations concerning the mechanism that is commonly thought to underpin human reasoning.

Research suggests that when emotions are aroused under conditions of stress, there is a reduction in human “processing capacity” or attention span, so important information may be missed or misinterpreted. This means that people focus mainly on what they’ve done before and lose the flexibility to see new options or interpretations. Mistakes become more likely, particularly when part of the limited human attention is given to worrying about the outcome or about public approval. 

In such circumstances the counsel of the Psalmist to “be still, and know that I am God” (46:10) brings a feeling of calmness and peace, which in itself reduces stress and thereby widens the human attention span for improved decisionmaking. More important, it also lifts thought to yield to the greater wisdom of one all-knowing God, whose attention span is unlimited and whose knowledge lacks no crucial information.

Hymn No. 399 in the “Christian Science Hymnal” (adapted from William Cowper) puts it in a nutshell:

God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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