By Walid Zailaa
This summer August 4, 2022 marks two years since the Beirut explosion, one of the strongest and most devastating blasts in modern history. Hundreds lost their lives in vain; thousands were injured, and countless in the surrounding area were displaced for absolutely no justifiable reason whatsoever.
Two years have almost passed since one of the most hideous of crimes. Surprisingly, no one is being held accountable for killing and murdering innocent people who never thought that August 4 would be their last day. Other than some of the victims’ relatives, who have been ultimately suppressed, no one is talking about it anymore, not even the church.
In the memory of those who lost their lives in vain I write. Although they may have taken your lives; they may have shattered your families; they may have caused us all unbearable pain; and, they may have thought of you as just dots on a map, they may not take away your dignity and the fact that you are made in God’s image. Even though my blog will not do you justice, I want to add my voice to all those who are in constant remembrance of you, knowing that our prayers are heard and in due course acted upon by God, and hopefully by His church.
I am writing on your behalf to let you know that if your case is being stalled judicially, politically, nationally, and internationally, I hope that the church’s prophetic voice will ultimately rise to keep your case open in front of the eternal everlasting divine judge. If, however, the church for some reason joined the rest of the world in overlooking, stalling, and keeping quiet, woe to us!
My concern is not only with the injustice done to you and us. I am also concerned with the indifference, or maybe a better description, the quick adaptation of the church. I think that the church has become so flexible to an extent that it quickly adapts to fit in. The notion of fitting in disempowers the church from its prophetic nature as an agent of change.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent and reported on social media to rebuild some of the damage caused by the blast.
Yet, in the pursuit of justice, there is a deeper issue at stake. I wonder what would have happened if the church had gone beyond the mere fact of engaging with the consequences.
What would have happened if the church had supported one of the victims’ families in its legal pursuit for justice by appointing an attorney for a case processing in the court?
What would have happened if the church had founded an organization after the victims of the Beirut explosion to keep their case alive; if the church had protested with the families of the victims when they raised their voices to pursue justice for their loved ones or had used online platforms and hosted a few families as a means of holding up?
I wonder how these actions of seeking justice beyond repairing the damage would have been perceived by the community.
I think that we have become so flexible to an extent that we quickly adapt to fit in and simply deal with the symptoms of the injustice that we all experience.
Fitting in is like picking up the fruit to feed the poor after cutting down the tree, which lessens the gravity of the crime and is not in alignment with the prophetic nature of the church. By masking the symptoms, we (unintentionally) empower the offenders and make them look great.
To be prophetic, the church should be willing to do two things: to speak up and act accordingly. The people of God in the Old Testament were to live their prophetic nature among the nations, but they veered off course and decided to drop their distinction as the people of God by following their own ways. By not being the prophetic model for the nations, they themselves needed a prophetic voice through which they were called to correct their own course and come back on track again.
In Lebanon, evil is not so hard to identify. Unlike other places in the world where injustice and corruption may require a thorough investigation, for us in Lebanon every rule is broken, every assassination is taking place, and every fraud is planned in plain sight right under our noses by those who were supposed to protect and provide. Even though it is so obvious to the naked eye, we quickly adapt by keeping quiet and learning to cope with what is taking place.
Even if we decide to live out our prophetic nature, the biggest trap we fall into is when we await the change we want to see as a result of our prophetic voice. The prophetic nature of the church is not a tool to help achieve certain goals. It is a process, a way of living, and a journey. If we understand the prophetic nature of the church as a momentary commitment to attain specific goals even with the good in mind, it ceases to be prophetic. We are not called to be driven by our achievements, but by our willingness to trust, obey, and execute God’s plan in us and through us. Moreover, we should be willing to pay the price.
Many have lost their lives in vain, and others are suffering the consequences of decades of corruption and oppression. Trying to ease the suffering of the people by meeting their needs is a great step forward for the church to be engaged in its local context. Nevertheless, staying at this level of service and not addressing the underlying issues will do more harm than good in the long run. If we only meet the needs of the people, we are in a way rewarding the oppressor and covering up for their crimes.
Not everyone is only in need of a food voucher and a blanket. What people really need is for someone to act on their behalf and claim back their abducted rights and wasted dignity. If it is not the church, then who will do it? The rights of my neighbor are my responsibility.
I pray and hope that the church will step up to take its ministry and presence in the community to the next level and be ready to pay the price of its prophetic voice as God’s agent of change.
Faith is a decision….to this “Yes” to God belongs an equally clear “No.” Your Yes to God demands your No to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and the poor, to all godlessness and mocking of the Holy. Your Yes to God demands a brave No to everything that will ever hinder you from serving God alone, whether it be your profession, your property, your house, your honor before the world. Faith means decision.
Walid is the Academic Dean of ABTS and the pastor of Faith Baptist Church that meets in Mansourieh, Lebanon.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 203.
Thank you for the article. It reminded me of what Bonhoeffer said: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of the victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
Many thanks for this challenging contribution,
How do you view the context of the injustice and lack of accountability described above?
Speaking as an outsider, it appears to be very deeply rooted in the political structure of Lebanon. In turn, I wonder what (probably) long-standing cultural norms underlie this structure, and what history makes it appear entrenched. Robert Fisk lived in Beirut for many years, working as a journalist as well as authoring several books. I’ve seen the following description of Lebanon attributed to him: “It may have beautiful mountains, fine food, an extraordinarily well-educated population, but it is sectarian. It’s a bit like owning a Rolls Royce complete with fresh leather seats, a flat screen television and a cocktail bar – but with square wheels. It doesn’t work.”
Speaking and acting in prophetic ways to effectively challenge this looks difficult, requiring (I suggest) a clear sense of calling from God and the ability to work with long timescales. (The latter is notoriously problematic in Western contexts with short electoral calendars and even short memories of many people.) How should the church go about challenging injustice that is systemic and deep rooted?
I agree that the church (collectively) needs to do so for the reasons that you give. This injunction applies more widely.
In May I was in another Middle Eastern state where one encouragement was a group of young adults addressing various deep rooted issues in their context and stating that solutions must come from within.