August 2021 Newsletter: Proclaiming Hope One Year Later
August 12, 2021
How the Beirut Blast Changed Us: Stories and Updates from a Yearlong Response to the Beirut Blast
August 12, 2021

Proclaiming Hope One Year Later

Elie Haddad, President

August 17, 2021

Two weeks ago, we commemorated the first anniversary of the Beirut blast. A lot has happened in this past year, including deeper economic troubles and further deterioration of what is left of Lebanon. A lot has not happened, too. We have not seen any leaders in government taking responsibility for the explosion, or for the utter collapse of our systems. No justice has been served, and no closure has been offered to the families who have suffered immensely.

Going back to the newsletter archives, I realized that I had written an article entitled Is There Hope? for the July 2019 newsletter. We were wrestling then with the notion of hope even before the uprising, the economic collapse, the pandemic, and the Beirut explosion. It is sobering to recognize that we were looking for hope in July 2019 when the devastation was a fraction of what we are currently experiencing. Most Lebanese today would be relieved to go back to the conditions of July 2019. After the explosion, I wrote an article entitled The Beirut Explosion: Where Is God?. In it, I reflected on where and how we can see God in the midst of this cataclysmic event. “Where is God?” is an even more relevant and striking question one year after the blast.

Today, as I reflect on this past year, it seems that for most Lebanese hope is rapidly fading. We are left with ultimate despair. What can we say to the people of Lebanon? What can the Church say without resorting to empty and meaningless words?

It is somewhat easier to communicate words of hope to a suffering Church. The Church understands the gift of suffering, the power of the resurrected life, and the eschatological hope that we have in Christ. In addition, the Church can readily recall its past experiences of God’s grace and provisions despite all circumstances.

But what about the unchurched? What words of hope can be communicated to them? That Jesus is coming again and that eventually good will win over evil? What words can be meaningful to those who are starving, grieving, and are in total despair today?

In his Gospel account, Luke writes several times about preaching Good News to the poor. Tom Houston argues that in Luke’s reference to the poor as a category, he is also referring to the captives, the blind, the oppressed, etc. But what was the content of this Good News to the poor? What made it Good News? Of course, it always included the forgiveness of sin. But more than that. The Good News addressed the hearers at the points of their deep need, whether it was healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, releasing the captives, or giving justice to the oppressed. The content of the Good News brought hope to the sinner and brought hope to the poor. These two aspects of proclaiming the Gospel were inseparable.

One key aspect for Luke is that the Good News has implications for the rich just as it has implications for the poor. It is the rich who can sell their belongings to give to the poor. For Good News to bring hope to the poor, it takes rich and compassionate people to act.

Similarly, the Good News has implications for the Church. Proclaiming the Good News cannot leave the Church and followers of Christ unchanged. We have experienced this first-hand during the recent crises and especially since last year’s blast. The Church in Lebanon is being changed. It is learning how to bring hope to the poor by serving them at the time and place of their intense suffering. It is learning what it means to engage in incarnational ministry, to be embedded within the people it serves, to be present, and to live out its identity in recognizable ways.

So, how can the Church communicate hope beyond empty words? Houston suggests that it needs to become more compassionate and more credible. “We must give up something significant if the compassion of Jesus for the poor is to be seen in us,” comments Houston. Compassion is always costly. When the Church remains unaffected by the misery of those around it, this is what Houston refers to as the “credibility gap.” We lose our credibility when we fail to get into the trenches to come alongside the suffering.

As the Good News has implications for the poor, for the rich, and for the Church, undoubtedly it has implications for the seminary. If the Church that responds to God’s invitation to participate in His mission in the world through word and deed cannot remain unchanged, neither can the seminary. If what the Church is experiencing in the streets of Beirut does not transform our curriculum and the way we equip church leaders to engage the world, then that would be a colossal waste of a crisis. We are learning precious lessons at ABTS during these days of hardship, too numerous to mention here. The most important, perhaps, is that our curricula, our approaches, our delivery, even our outcomes, must be dynamic and ever-changing in response to what God is teaching us about Himself and His actions in our world.

With the devastation that we are experiencing in Lebanon, and with the widespread and alarming despair, it is no longer enough to tell people that God loves them. This is the time to show them God’s love. This is true not only in Lebanon. There are poor and oppressed communities around the Church all over the world. The need for the Church to act may seem more pronounced in Lebanon today. Nevertheless, the whole Church is called to be more compassionate and more credible, every day, everywhere. If the Gospel is not Good News to the poor and oppressed, then it is not Good News.

I do get my hope from the knowledge that Jesus is coming again and from the assurance that good will eventually win over evil. But what the people of Lebanon need to experience today is God’s redemptive power through the love, service, and sacrifice of His people in their midst. My prayer at this decisive time is that the power of the Good News changes us first for it to change the world.