by Walid Zailaa
It is no secret that the outbreak of revolutions in the various areas of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and lately in Lebanon, has revealed an ugly truth of the systematic impoverishment of the people over decades. Instead of seeking the welfare of their people, the rulers’ main concern is to keep the voice of any potential opposition suppressed and unheard through the creation of a “fear bubble” used to subdue citizens – a modern form of slavery. Paradoxically, the lesson rulers have missed is that by stripping people of their right to live decently and dream of a bright future, leaving them with absolutely nothing, they are not shutting down their voice but unwittingly nurturing their people’s revolutionary willpower to break the shackles of fear and slavery. There is a hidden, collective, and unstoppable power when people become aware that they have nothing to lose. The emphatic portrayal that our history has sealed with blood (lately in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other places) is loud and clear: if this type of power is unleashed, those in control should step down, or else broad destruction will follow. In the end, history will have the final exposure.
Although, in Lebanon, the dynamics between citizens and those in power is slightly different, the outcome is the same. The focus of rulers is less outward and more inward. In this country, officials do not foster the notion of “putting food on the table” for their citizens, rather they bog themselves down in swamps of corruption, seizing all opportunities to get richer as fast as possible. As a result, my people have found themselves with nothing left, finally unleashing the “so-called” power. Because corruption is deeply rooted and entangled in Lebanon, everything is permissible. The upheaval to seek justice is falling on deaf ears and, I imagine, has become the joke of the season in their prestigious saloons. I came to realize that it is one of God’s mercies that Lebanon is small, so the hands of destruction could not harm more lofty mountains; so the greed could not pollute more of the spectacular Mediterranean; so oppression could not squeeze more people out of its boundaries. Systematic corruption has infected the very nature of the nation: the mountains, the sea, the rivers, the air, and the people of Lebanon; nothing has been left unscathed. It is indeed one of God’s mercies that the hands of corruption cannot spread beyond this parameter and harm more of God’s glorious creation.
A few years ago, the Lebanese church was faced with a reality that has changed the way we think of mission. At the onset of the Syrian crisis, the influx of our brothers and sisters from Syria into our communities forced the church to pause for a moment in an attempt to digest a new reality. Those of us who have perceived, accepted, and engaged with the demographical changes in our region have followed a Biblical mandate, obeyed God’s calling, and matured in a mission beyond the borders of the church building. On the other hand, those of us who are still standing at the crossroad of the refugee crisis focusing merely on what happens inside the walls of their churches have missed the train and lost touch with our new reality.
Today, the church is faced with a further development of this new reality, a revolution driven purely by the unleashed power of having absolutely nothing to lose. It is time for the church to start asking the right questions in order to understand the nature of this emerging reality, accept it as a fact, and start to engage with it.
Romans 13 was for many the starting point:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Rom 13:1-2 NIV)
I hope the interpretation of this passage becomes a tool to help the church assess what is currently taking place, and not a stone we throw at each other in judgement. While different churches are busy dissecting Romans 13, my neighbors, my relatives, my friends, my colleagues, and my fellow Lebanese are protesting, raising their voices asking for justice to be done; which is, supposedly, the primary mission of the church? God will listen to the outcry of the people on the street in times of despair and not to the sophisticated interpretations of Romans 13 inside the church.
For years, Evangelical churches in Lebanon have prayed and fasted for a spiritual revival. Today, those prayers have been heard. The opportunity of a revival is wrapped with instability. If we as a church dare to unpack it, the Lord will do great things through us, as has happened in the previous crisis with our Syrian brothers and sisters. But, if we as a church look for stability and alienate ourselves from the current instability, God will still do great work but through those who dare to engage.
In all cases, the prophetic mindset of the church is key, especially in unusual circumstances. The prophetic mindset is more than just doing what God is asking us to do; it is the awareness of the church’s identity, role, and embodiment. If we are waiting for the right environment, it will never be peaceful enough and it will never be calm enough, God wants us to serve our communities in the midst of instability so that He is known to the nations. Ezekiel concludes his prophecy to the people in exile by revealing God’s ultimate purpose: “Then the nations will know that I the LORD make my people holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.” (Eze 37:28 NIV). Matthew concludes his Gospel in a political and social unstable context by revealing God’s ultimate purpose: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat 28:19 NIV). Instead of asking what is God’s will for us as a church, let us ask the Lord: How do you want your church to achieve your already revealed will in its unstable local context? There is, of course, a vast difference between the two questions.