The video (embedded below) is (according to the Washington Post) “from the southwestern Syrian town of Zamalka, that was posted online Monday by Syrian activists. The footage shows a father reuniting with his young son, who he thought had been killed, as thousands of Syrian children have been, in a recent attack by regime forces.”
There are two things I want to point out before you watch the video, and afterward I’ll share a few thoughts with you.
First, the man whom we first see with the child is not the father (though perhaps a relative – the kid is clearly overwhelmed, yet not totally alarmed).
The child’s father finally exits the house about a minute into the video (he’s in gray pants and a white t-shirt). This is when cries of “Allāhu Akbar” (Arabic for “God is the greatest”) start filling the air.
Now turn the sound up (I recommend headphones), make sure you won’t be interrupted, and watch the video in its entirety.
My first reaction was to cry. And cry I did (at work, in my cubicle). I cried along with these men as the celebrated with the father. I cried with the child as he cried from being overwhelmed and probably a little frightened at all of the commotion and recent trauma. I cried with the father, as he quietly wept while kissing and just staring at his son.
And in the midst of my empathetic tears, God spoke a quite word to me. He said, “This, Emily, this is a glimpse of my joy in you. This is a little bit what it’s like when a child returns to me.”
Ah, the father’s joy at the lost son’s return. The story of the prodigal son. I get it now, what the end of the story means.
Luke 15:24 – ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
I think that this verse has been somewhat lost in translation in my American culture. I personally don’t think I’ve ever seen such unrestrained emotion from my father or from any man. True, my father has never thought I was dead, but you get my point. And it’s not that my father doesn’t show emotion, he does – just not to the visible extent of the men in this video.
I’m not writing this to debate the quality or quantity of emotion in men, but rather I want to point out the context in which Luke wrote down this parable. For a Middle Eastern culture in the time period of Jesus’ life, the phrase “and they began to celebrate” would’ve have a different connotation than it perhaps does for us today (I’m thinking the celebration in this video vs a tailgate party before the Super Bowl).
The second thing that struck me with this video was how instantly one of the men began to chant “Allāhu Akbar” as soon as he saw child reunited with father.
Setting aside the religion and debate about which god he’s praising… It made an impression on me how it was this man’s first and most insistent reaction to praise his god. Repeatedly. Over and over, getting louder and louder as other joined him.
I try to live a life that is constantly praising God and giving thanks to him, but I must admit that it’s not always my first reaction. Or if it is my first reaction, I say it once or twice and that’s it.
But this man couldn’t seem to stop loudly praising. It seemed almost compulsory at times, as if his body simply didn’t know what else to do except shout “Allāhu Akbar.”
I have a feeling that this reaction was largely due to habit. The habit of praying five times a day (which, to this busy American, sounds overwhelmingly like an all-day thing), praying the ritual prayers of Salah, is intended to focus the mind on God and is seen as a personal communication with him that expresses gratitude and worship.
Tradition and ritual like this is something I’ve been missing in my own Christian walk, so this video is serving as a good reminder that it’s up to me to develop the habit – God is always ready and waiting for me.
So I’ll leave you with a few reminders. Remember to keep praying for peace in Syria, peace in large and small ways. Be encouraged and feel cherished by God, remembering that he loves you even more than the father in this video loves his son. And remember to develop a habit of expressing gratitude to God, so that your primal reaction to surprising events is to praise him.