THE NEED FOR A ROLE MODEL
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 strong 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 still need them to refer to – even if only to disagree with or try to change. Our world today can seem so blurred and undefined, with no clarity on the limits of power or trustworthiness of authorities to which people can refer. Societies are being reshaped, and seemingly with little moral guidance or predictability. This is overwhelming enough in itself, but what makes the situation even more desperately confusing is the lack of good role models, or any trusted sources of guidance when it comes time to make important choices.
We have recently witnessed a highly divisive US Presidential election campaign, where the candidates were focussing on each other’s moral failings, where there were few role models or easy choices for the voting public. We have seen the United Kingdom deeply and bitterly divided over membership of the EU and many people devastated by the resulting vote for “Brexit”. It seems that almost everywhere, the 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 often brought on by change but also because of the lack of trusted leadership and role models. Neither powerful, stable countries and political institutions, nor individual leaders whom people should be able to trust and refer to, seem to be capable of offering guidance and support in these desperate times.
People in the Middle East are especially hungry for guidance; they long to understand and choose for themselves, but often none of the options is convincing enough. In times of conflict, people may seem more comfortable with biased national or religious views, but the real, underlying hunger is a cornerstone of hope and love, which 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.
The book of Habakkuk offers a good example for today. Habakkuk lived in times of uncertainty when God seemed unavailable or unconcerned about the injustice and chaos people were enduring. Habakkuk, as a leader of worship in the temple, did not stay silent, or even simply take refuge in his strong personal relationship with God. Instead, he went out and presented God, with all of his concerns, questions, and doubts. He insisted on arguing with God and was determined to receive 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 argued with God, determined to receive answers and to 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 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 of our efforts, regardless of sincerity, may 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 amount of 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 which God is continually equipping us for. I pray that this energises us, and makes us feel worthy and needed more than burdened or incapable!