By Brent Hamoud
The Beirut port blast happened a year ago, and all that went up that day has not come down. Unknown tonnage of mysterious ammonium nitrate erupted on August 4th 2020, but we have not seen a sliver of accountability befall those responsible for the mass destruction. How then can closure even begin to settle on those mourning their losses?
Two types of people now exist in Lebanon: those who think back to that day and ask themselves, “How did I not die? How is it that loved ones were not lost?” and those who, tragically, are not fortunate enough to ask such questions.
Twelve months later and we still have no answers, no apologies, no reckoning, and no doubt that the people of power are morally bankrupt. The explosion was truly terrible; the state’s heartless response in its aftermath is unbearably terrorizing.
The blast’s conditions were uncannily primed for carnage. Its magnitude of force was one for the ages. Its location in a capital city’s urban center mercilessly struck victims in the mundanity of their homes, workplaces, life activities, and daily commutes. Its occurrence in the early evening of a summer’s day caught unassuming residents at a time when life was supposed to wind down rather than blow up. No one in Beirut on August 4th expected to be suddenly bombarded by overwhelming harm. People in Lebanon have since altered their expectations.
If only the blast was a terrible aberration from a tranquil norm rather than another episode in this running nightmare. Like most things in Lebanon, the 2020 explosion is bound up in a cataclysmic entanglement of crises. Life had already been unsettled by tense confrontations between the entrenched political establishment and a popular protest movement. The economy had already turned the corner hard into a financial meltdown boasting its own historically catastrophic merits. COVID-19 had already dished out fatal disruption across the nation, just as it was doing throughout the world. This was the situation facing Lebanon in August 2020, and then Beirut got blasted.
The explosion came when the country was on its knees, and it packed enough of a punch to seemingly knock it out of the ring altogether. For many, it was the straw that blew up the camel’s back.
Unfortunately, this atrocity now joins a harrowing list of atrocities; August 4th is one more infamous date etched into modern Lebanese history. It joins April 13, September 16, October 23, April 18, February 14, July 2006 and others in a calendar densely packed with bloody anniversaries. Even so, this one is different. Its demoralization instantaneously sunk in; from the moment the blast happened there was widespread resignation to the fact that we’ll never know the facts of why it happened. It’s a manmade disaster devoid of any personality, a human evil that lacks a known human identity. When you know not who to rage against you end up raging against everyone, or no one.
A year has done nothing to help people move beyond their bewilderment. Emotions ignited on August 4th have largely given way to hopelessness, and hopelessness eventually dissolves into numbness. But even the numb need something to invoke. What can we turn to?
Viral videos have all been shared and social media comments have all been posted. Investigative journalists have come to the end of their trails and personal accounts played and replayed their testimonies. Tributes to victims will never do justice to the innocent lives that were taken and official inquires will never deliver justice to those who took them. What then do the brokenhearted have to animate everything boiling within us?
Thank God for the Psalms.
All Scripture is God-breathed, and the Psalms are God-forged in the crucibles of a corrupted world. The psalmists can speak for us when our own words fall short.
For those barely able to hold together hearts that have been shattered like glass:
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground. (Psalm 44:24-25)
For those who yearn to be delivered from a land that feels utterly ruthless and void:
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.” (Psalm 55:5-8)
For those who are only allowed to face the murderous, godless culprits in the chambers of their own imaginations:
Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:
He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:5)
Many more are at our disposal, and each can cut through confusion and despair to carry us to a final plea, a prayer that emerges when we find ourselves left with nothing but desperation wrapped in faith:
Into your hands I commit my spirit. (Psalm 31:5)
Here, in this surrender, there is peculiar consolation. Someone takes us by the heart and reminds us that it has all been faced before.
He wore the flesh and felt the pain.
He endured the world and encountered the disillusionment.
He bore the cross.
He committed his spirit.
He does it still, with us.
Christ faced the powder kegs of life. He needed the Psalms, and we need Christ. Embracing these has a way of transforming our situations.
Agony like August 4th doesn’t dissipate, not in a year nor in a hundred. Pain continually bursts from warehouses of evil and cruelty will remain in stock for however long this version of the world persists. Praise God a new version is coming. As we press on, solace is found solely in the One cut down with us, the Christ crucified for us. How comforting to trust that we are carried now and onwards.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Brent is Program Lead for of the MRel in MENA Studies and a resident of Lebanon.