Thursday, 24 February 2011

Was God in Tahrir Square?

Was God in Tahrir Square? Of course, God was there as the one in whom all creatures "live and move and have their being", but was he there directing, through his mysterious providence, the events that led to the Egyptian Revolution? I suspect most Western Christians will bide their time answering that question, waiting to see what transpires as Egypt, particularly to the long-suffering Egyptian Christians. But we must not neglect to factor into our thinking the many places in the Bible which declare that God is, in a sense, Lord of all nations and the decider of their fates, for good or ill; verses such as Psalm 22:28, to cite just one example (take up and read!), and those which teach that that all things happen according to God's good purposes.

One factor in the Revolution that might point towards the presence of God in Tahrir Square is the advent of a moderate and tolerant form of Islam promoted by Egyptian clerics through television programs. Yes, it's the Muslim equivalent of US televangelists, and like the American versions thereof, they have garnered considerable popularity and political influence. It was evidently these popular figures who provided much of the moral support to the youth who spearheaded the revolution. We can only hope then that their intentions really are as benevolent as is claimed by their supporters - of this more below, but first a digression.

Western history teaches us that the liberty and tolerance that enabled modern representative democracies to develop and thrive was underpinned by solid Christian convictions. Western society is now facing a reversal of its fortuens precisely because, I would argue, that religious foundation is being systematically broken up. I would also argue that if Middle-Eastern societies are to thrive as free and democratic societies, then a moderate and tolerant form of Islam needs to appear to provide a religious ethos that supports democracy.

Perhaps the advent of the Egyptian Muslim televangelists, with their so-far benevolent attitude towards the Christians in their midst, is evidence of just such a movement? Not that God approves of their theology, mind you, but could he not use them to further his own purposes to bless the Egyptian people with "1st article of the Creed" gifts, while at the same time creating a more hospitable environment for the many Christians there? It's an intriguing prospect. God's ways are indeed mysterious, as Cowper's hymn reminds us: "He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will". And he does so in ways which we, often as not, don't see coming.

Click on the post title to read an article by an insider arguing that God was indeed in Tahrir Square, and follow events with interest and prayers for our Egyptian Christian brothers and sisters. Let's hope for their sake the report is not overly optimistic.


joel in ga said...

Certainly the Lord will use Tahrir Square to accomplish His purposes. Egypt adds, as it were, an interesting chapter to a tome I'm currently reading, (Seemingly Lutheran) Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy's Out of Revolution, which analyzes major world revolutions from Luther to the Bolsheviks.

Gratuitous but related comment: street protests do not appear to be a particularly Christ-like method of provoking change, for it is written of our Lord: "He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets."

Pr Mark Henderson said...

That's a fascinating book, Joel.

Yes, I wouldn't go so far as to attribute direct political action to God, but I'm sure he is congruently working through the accumulated thoughts and actions of the people involved. It's kingdom of the left, not kingdom of the right work - part of the mysterious way God orders the world.

joel in ga said...

Pr. Mark,

You mention the kingdoms of the left and right. One thing I've noticed from ERH's book is how historically the kingdom of the right (in its earthly expression) has had a great impact on the kingdom of the left. ERH pointed out, e.g., how Lutheranism and Anglicanism were each followed by centuries of secular equivalents. It makes me wonder if the prayers of the persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East have something to do with the recent calls for greater freedom there.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Yes, I would certainly agree that Lutheranism and Anglicanism made a deep and positive impression on their respective societies. I understand that even US states with a large number of Lutherans have been positively effected by the Lutheran ethos. Of course, in a more negative sense, aspects of Russian Orthodoxy continued in Soviet Russia.

I would also agree that the prayers of Christians in the ME (and their supporters elsewhere) could be being favourably answered by God in the current move towards new democratic/representative states - although not without considerable birth-pains along the way, as wee see from the news.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I meant to add - and I'm sure you know this anyway - that the two kingdoms are distinct but not separate; e.g. Christians are in the world yet not of the world, commanded to pray for government, to be honest citizens, and the church has approved those who pursue politics as a vocation, who join the army, etc.