by Wissam Nasrallah
In a world where we are bombarded with contradictory information and conspiracy theories are mainstream, Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is Truth?” is more important now than ever. The challenge, however, lies in the fact that the quest for truth requires an expensive commodity that Pilate did not have: time. Time to investigate, time to question and cross-examine, time to experiment and explore, time to doubt, time to be challenged and provoked, time to think and process. In a complex and fast-paced world, ready-packaged one-size-fits-all opinions are much more appealing and convenient; they save us from having to go through the painful process of tearing apart our presumptions and presuppositions, identifying and challenging our biases and carving out opinions based on the examination of facts. The other alternative would be locking ourselves in an indifferent or fatalistic avoidance because, to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”
This September 1st, Lebanon celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of the State of Greater Lebanon by French General Henri Gouraud. It is an auspicious occasion to take the necessary time to answer the difficult questions about our past, present and future as a country—questions that we have long avoided in order to sidestep another bloody conflict and preserve the fragile status quo.
The disdain and distrust regarding matters of governance and public life resulting from our avoidance has led to the disappearance of the notion of the common good in Lebanese political life. Furthermore, the complacency we have developed towards our dysfunctional political life has transformed our resiliency into fatalism: “Ma’alech, chou fina na3mol?” (It’s ok, what can we do anyways?). Finally, the expectations of our country are so low that we accept paying exorbitant prices for temporary makeshift remedies and settle on shady accommodations to our common problems.
This 100-year experiment shows us that we have not become a nation but remain a collection of tribes sharing the same space where truth is merely subjective, sectarianized and politicized. If my tribe is faring well, satisfying my needs and protecting my immediate interests, then I do not need to demand accountability and transparency. Matters as simple as trash management require political compromise and a splitting of the pie. In such a system, there is no truth, only narrow interests, power brokering and a contest of wills.
This year has humbled and tested us in ways we had not experienced before. On top of a severe economic crisis and a financial meltdown came COVID-19, a crumbling healthcare system, hyperinflation, mass unemployment, food insecurity, social unrest, increased poverty, and now the devastating explosion that ripped our capital city apart.
Following the port explosion, the Lebanese took it upon themselves yet again to clear piles of rubble and glass from the streets of their city knowing painfully well that their government would not respond adequately. While doors and windows are slowly being fixed, repairing the ills of Lebanon will not materialize until we face the truth about the corrupt state of our civic and political culture. This time, quick and dirty repairs just won’t cut it. We cannot keep on kicking the can down the road knowing that the road is headed over the edge of a cliff. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and continue with our destructive “ostrich attitude.” We must establish a new form of government and write a new social contract with truth and the common good at the heart of it. Cynics claim that truth and politics are an oxymoron; they are not. While we acknowledge that there is always a tension, we must believe that they together can lead to accountability and transparency. But truth requires courage, boldness and sacrifice.
My hope is that the powerful blast uncovers for everyone the truth of the underlying rot and decay beneath Beirut’s veneer of glitz and vanity. I hope that it will be the last act of our current political system and culture, its crowning achievement, with the eviscerated grain silos standing like an ancient ruin of a distant past reminding us of what it takes to wake up complacent and resigned citizens. But I am probably just hoping.
As Christians, we want to see our country fixed, and we grieve and weep when we see its people hurting, suffering and finally emigrating. It was heartening to see the Church spring into action after the blast to help those in need, to be caring neighbors and repairers of broken walls. It has truly been a paradigm shift for the local church. However, we are also called to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), to stand for what is just (Is. 56:1), to humble ourselves, to pray and seek his face and to turn from our wicked ways (2 Chor. 7:14). It is then that we will be able to plant again the seeds of hope. Not the hope of a better government or a better life socially or economically, but a hope that is bullet and blast-proof, a hope that is everlasting. A hope based on the Truth that “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
We are grateful for all our team, church partners and for the global body of Christ who have responded selflessly and are still serving tirelessly through it all.
We are grateful for all our friends and partners around the world who are lifting us up in prayer and sending us messages of encouragement and support. Please continue praying that the Lord may grant us the boldness, courage and humility to be speakers of truth as He shines His light into the darkness.