With all the changes rocking the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and indeed the wider world, it is not only a sense of chaos that is increasingly causing hopelessness and desperation.
A lack of quality role models, of leaders or authorities who can be trusted, is also a very important contributor to the crisis.
People need order and structure to feel secure. Even if they do not wholeheartedly agree with such structures, they need them to refer to –if only to question or try to change them. But too often today the limits on power are undefined and the trustworthiness of authorities is unclear. Societies are being reshaped, seemingly with little moral guidance or predictability.
We recently witnessed a highly divisive US Presidential election campaign, where the main candidates focused on each other’s moral failings and the lack of good role models made choices difficult for the voting public. We have seen the UK deeply and bitterly divided over membership of the EU and by the resulting vote for “Brexit”. It seems that almost everywhere, values of co-existence and tolerance are losing ground to nationalism and more extreme attitudes.
The world seems to be moving in darkness not only because of the sense of chaos and uncertainty brought on by change but because of the lack of trusted leadership and role models. Neither powerful, stable countries and political institutions nor individual leaders seem able to offer any guidance in these desperate times.
People in the MENA are especially hungry for guidance; they long to understand and choose for themselves, but often none of the available options is convincing enough. In times of conflict, people may seem more comfortable with biased nationalistic or religious views, but the real, underlying hunger is for a cornerstone of hope and love that people can rely on when everything seems to be collapsing.
These are challenging times for the region we are serving and for humanity in general. We need people who can see the big picture and learn from previous mistakes and experiences of hardship. Those with a strong foundation in faith, with knowledge and wisdom from personal experience, can offer great positive input.
Arguing with God
The book of Habakkuk offers a good example for today. Habakkuk lived in times of uncertainty when God seemed unavailable or indifferent to the injustice and chaos people were enduring. Habakkuk, as a leader of worship in the temple, did not stay silent. Nor did he take refuge in his strong personal relationship with God. Instead, he presented God with all his concerns, questions, and doubts. He took his argument to God and insisted on receiving an answer, saying:
“I will stand at my watch, and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” (Hab. 2:1, NIV)
Habakkuk was determined to receive answers and understand. From these arguments, a beautiful song of hope was written which ends this short, amazing book. This song speaks of a hope that is built on knowledge and on the ability to understand a situation clearly. Even when we anticipate the worst in a situation, this knowledge encourages us never to lose heart, to trust God, and to understand His ways and promises. This is what allowed Habakkuk to pray and stand strong for his people during those difficult times.
As previously mentioned, we at SAT-7 are working in critical and exciting times. Those who want to bring a message of hope to the hopeless need to build their message on a deep knowledge of the situation surrounding them and, even more so, on a strong understanding of the nature of the God they are serving: the source of real hope.
Without engaging deeply, discussing our concerns with God and with each other, and speaking on behalf of others; without the patience to handle the questions and issues of oppressed people who are eager to be informed, all our efforts, however sincere, will be in vain.
It can even be counterproductive to share words of joy and comfort with tired and hopeless people without reflecting a real understanding of the pain and confusion they feel. Nothing can harm a hurting person more than naïve words of condolence, even if they are biblically-based. We have been given a great responsibility, one that God is continually equipping us for. I pray that this energises SAT-7’s ministry, and makes us feel worthy and needed more than burdened or incapable!