Unrest in the Middle East

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Several years ago, a great tragedy befell a family whom I love very much. A murder took place, dreams were shattered, and many (including myself) were left scrambling for answers in the aftermath. At the time, I was preaching for a church in Middle Tennessee, and I shared with them news of this terrible event. Everyone was asking questions such as “Why did this murder take place? What events led to it?” But an elderly gentleman, very advanced in years and able to walk only with a cane, came out of services and shook my hand. He shared these words: “I know what happened. The devil got to someone.” I remember recoiling privately from his words. They were too simplistic, too basic, too primitive to fully explain what happened. Surely there was more to it than that.

Like many of you, I was heartbroken and aghast again this week when I heard of the assassination of our ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. This murder was borne of a reaction by Muslims against a film they consider blasphemous of Mohammed. Since the attacks, violence in the Middle East has again reared its ugly head and only our Sovereign Lord knows what the future holds in that part of the world.

One headline that caught my eye was this: “Beyond religion in the Middle East,” an article written by Mimi Hanaoka in the Los Angeles Times. The article argues that what is going on in the Middle East may not be as it seems; the final paragraph reads:

At such a time, using religion alone to explain what's happening is counter-factual and counterproductive. Individuals, mobs and militants on all sides, in the United States as well as in Egypt and Libya, will try to dwell on Islam. Easily inflamed mobs in the Middle East may set back democratization efforts and strip the remade nations of foreign economic investment, tourism and the geopolitical support they need. In America, provocateurs will try to influence public opinion in divisive political times. It is important that policymakers and the news media remain clear-headed that the real issues are instead mostly local and always political.

Anyone who has studied the tumultuous Middle East concludes that the problems are hopelessly complicated, but perhaps they have a more simplistic answer—maybe the devil is getting to people.

Violence in the Middle East of course has its roots in the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. Before Ishmael’s birth, it was prophesied that “He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen 16:12). It is no secret that Islam claims Ishmael as its ancestor, and their version of the events of Genesis are distinctly different from what we read in Scripture.

One feature of the story that I would like to highlight, however, is that when Abraham died, both Ishmael and Isaac came together in peace to bury their father in the family cemetery (Gen. 25:9). That image, a peaceful gathering at a tomb, is the framework of hope for peace in the Middle East. But not just any tomb; an empty one.

Blame Mid-East violence on political unrest, the nature of Islam, the deplorable baiting by those who claim to be ministers of Christ’s gospel, or any other number of factors—if we blame Mid-East violence on any of things, we are seeking too complicated a solution. Maybe, just maybe, the devil is getting to someone, and the only hope for peace there, or anywhere, is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We should thus be praying fervently for God's Word to spread in that region. We should be praying for our missionaries in that part of the world, and pray for more to be sent to join them in their work. And if it be God's will that you or I move to foreign shores and join those on the front lines, may we eagerly answer his call with "Here am I, send me!"

"For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph. 2:14).

Father, I pray for peace where violence reigns. I pray that you comfort the families who have lost loved ones due to this week’s attacks. Most of all, I pray for your gospel to spread like wildfire in the Middle East as it did 2000 years ago. And through your Spirit, may you continue to remind us that the greatest problems we face in our world have a very simple cause, sin, and a very simple solution, a Savior. In his name, Amen.