While the world watches, major shifting and upheaval takes place all across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It’s only normal for observers to wonder what all this means and how things will play out.
We'd like to suggest that this question could be improved right from the start. Here are a few reasons why:
While some may be asking the question, “Is this good or bad for the people of that country?” it’s often the case that the asker meant, “Is this good or bad for us?” When we look through the lens of our own welfare first, we run the very great risk of missing God's heart for what’s happening in the world. What is God seeing and feeling as these events unfold?
2. Overlooking the hurting
It’s tragic that some of the uprisings have been accompanied by violence and loss of life. Some of these cases are extreme and heartbreaking. While we can’t rejoice at this devastation, if we merely criticize the instigators, we fail to appreciate the very real oppression that many of these people lived under for too long. The liberties that we enjoy here in the US were birthed through a revolution provoked by far less than the atrocities that some of these citizens have had to endure. How can we judge as “bad” the actions of people who long for the kind of freedom that we take for granted?
3. Mistaken desire for definition
It’s a very Western tendency to categorize events and people in neat and tidy boxes. Any given thing must be clearly “this” and not “that.” For example, many would say stability is “good.” The rise of gas prices is “bad.” We want to understand things through our mental grid, perhaps because it helps us feel more in control of an unpredictable world? The reality, though, is that so much in life fails to be black and white like we desire. God's plan is not for stability at the expense of justice (Micah 6:8). Protecting our pocket books is not the ultimate good in God's economy.
It’s uncomfortable to live with ambiguity and uncertainty. Life can be confusing enough, so we can easily give in to the temptation to accept simple answers for complex questions. In doing so, however, we settle for an incomplete picture of both the world and the God who created it. A quick glance through the Bible reveals a God who sometimes surprises us. There is a fair amount of tension that is solidly biblical and necessary. Are we willing to wade into the murky waters of awkward complexity, in order to consider the world with integrity?
There are no easy answers when it comes to the turmoil around us, but it helps when we can start with better questions. And instead of clearcut answers, perhaps our goal should be encouraging honest conversation and challenging others to grow in their understanding. What are the questions we should be asking today? How can we help people engage with the real issues at hand?