Lebanon Brief – January 2019

The Light of Hope Will Shine even through the Cracks of Our Disunity

By Chaden Hani

 

News

“The government will be formed before the end of the year” says prime minister Hariri after 7 months of delay, wrangling between rival parties, and the insistence of six pro-Hezbollah Sunni politicians on receiving a ministerial portfolio in the next cabinet – a demand thus far refused by President Michelle Aoun and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on the basis that the politicians do not constitute a coherent political bloc.

A flurry of consultations between Aoun, top officials, and Hezbollah leadership in recent days has renewed hope for a near end to the Cabinet vacuum that threatens Lebanon’s financial and security situation, posed by the recent Israeli operation to uncover and neutralize cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah alongside the Israel-Lebanon border.

Analysis

The problems within Lebanon appear to be linked to the overall struggles of the region in general, specifically that of the ongoing crisis in Syria. The contemporary Sunni-Shi’a divide in the Middle East is playing out within Lebanon, as the Lebanese find themselves navigating the troubled waters between the interests of the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia on one hand and Iran, Hezbollah and Russia on the other, a truly “Ulyssian task.”

The United States is pushing for a withdrawal of Hezbollah and Iran from Syria, in an effort to halt the expansion of Iranian regional hegemony and weaken the Syrian regime as a countervailing force to Israel. For its part, Israel has proactively raised the issue of cross-border tunnels to raise awareness of the threat it poses to Hezbollah and subsequently Iran, as a warning for the Islamic republic to reduce its activities in Syria. Hezbollah is applying pressure within Lebanon to support their allied Sunni politicians, as a counterweight to the individualistic Hariri-Sunni position.

Needless to say, the complicated situation in the Middle East is far from being resolved. Yet, divisions will lead to destruction. Even if our politicians sell us hope, it is a false promise largely dependent upon wider regional dynamics. It seems the struggles facing the region will only lead to further calamities.

Theological and Missiological Implications

A divided Middle East brings to mind the divided Israelite kingdoms of scripture, wherein we see the rise of the prophets who spoke for the Lord, warning the kings and people to repent, return to God and obey His commands if they wanted to avoid calamity. Prophets of the northern and the southern kingdoms played a significant role in history as described in the Book of Kings. Elijah and his successor Elisha underscored Israel’s struggle with the idolatry surrounding Baal. Later, Ezra restored Mosaic Law, while Nehemiah restored the gates and walls of Jerusalem following the return from exile and restoration of the temple.

The concept of hope in the prophetic books is based on the assurance that what God did in the past, He will do again in the future. Now, the Church bears witness to the faithfulness of God to his promises. It should represent the prophetic voice of God, speaking truth to power and proclaiming the righteousness and will of God to the nations in these hard times. The local Church in Lebanon can engage itself in reconciliation work between the Christian communities, and in the kerygmatic proclamation that our ultimate Hope is found in God’s redemption of His creation and not dependent upon the ephemeral and fleeting political situations within which we find ourselves.