"Jesus Has Overcome the World" - WRF Member Marten de Vries Examines Recent Political Upheaval in the Middle East

Jesus Has Overcome the World
 
By Rev. Marten de Vries
 
When tectonic plates collide, they cause an earthquake and sometimes a devastating tsunami. For countries situated near a fissure in the earth’s crust the question is not whether disaster will hit them but when it will strike. Likewise, when people, powers and religions collide, everything starts shifting - with unforeseeable consequences. From the start of this year of our Lord the whole world has been focussed on the turbulent developments in the Middle East. There was a general understanding that the situation could not remain as it was. So though it was perhaps not entirely unexpected, a contagious revolution suddenly arose from the bottom up, and no one knows where it will end.
 
The fury of the Arabic people must not be interpreted as primarily religious, except perhaps in Bahrain, where the Shiite majority no longer tolerates a Sunni government. But bearing in mind that the Shiites enjoy full freedom to practice their form of Islam and do not exactly suffer poverty, even in that country it is essentially about the political power of people of a certain religious identity. In the background there is the controversy between the predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia, which will not tolerate a Shiite stronghold on the Arabic Peninsula, and the Shiite Iran, which would like to extend its leading role in the Islamic world. But in Egypt it was not only the Muslims who were fed up with Mubarak’s regime and the corrupt government.
 
In Egypt, a visitor from the West does not have to wait long to experience how rotten the society has become. Having to bargain with traders in the souq, who have no objective other than to fleece you while you are souvenir hunting, could be considered to be a sport. That taxi drivers claim that their fare meter is broken, take enormous detours, claim to have no change, and meantime charge you double or treble the amount, says even more about a country. But when a train conductor, asked about the correct platform, or a policeman, asked for directions, more or less compels you to tip him, you start to appreciate and understand the frustration of a people that has no knowledge of government servants, but which to all appearances exists for the purpose of enriching the persons placed above them.
 
At the same time, it is clear that the (Christian) brotherhood in the Arabic world is in great suspense as to what the near future will hold. For many centuries, legitimated by Islam, Christians have held a second-class status in ‘Islamistan’. The discrimination reaches further than the fact that they are generally not entrusted with high office. Even in relatively secular countries like Egypt or Syria, where the percentage of Christians surpasses that of Muslims in Europe, their freedom to confess their religion is curtailed by what Islam allows. That means (sometimes endless) opposition to the building or renovation of churches. Spreading the good gospel is completely out of the question, and while someone who was once baptized can easily convert to Islam, the opposite is impossible without risking one’s life
 
The question is whether youngsters in the Orient who were raised within Islam are all so happy with these age-old practices. The political revolution is not unconnected to the digital revolution: the world has opened up and it has become impossible for dictators to keep their subjects ignorant. The new generation of the East desires the same freedoms as their Western contemporaries, and many are of the opinion that it is inappropriate in this day and age to deny their fellow citizens this freedom. While part of the Muslim youth in the West strives to strengthen its Islamic identity in the midst of a non-Islamic majority, youngsters who were raised to be followers of Mohammed are often hungry for the gospel, which has suddenly come within their reach. Meanwhile, Coptic Christians and all the other millions of Arabic-speaking Christians in the entire region no longer find it more or less ‘normal’ that they should suffer inequality of justice - that too must come to an end.
 
Yet this is not the whole story. There are colliding powers. It may well be that the Muslim Brotherhood – and if it be the case, thanks be to God! – is one or two decades too late in its attempt to hijack the Arabic revolution, as Khomeini was able to do with the Iranian revolution forty odd years ago. At the same time, some extremely powerful anti-Western sentiments do exist, and whenever ‘Western’ is identified with ‘Christian’ it is, needless to say, unfavourable to the church of Jesus Christ. Following colonization before and imperialism after World War II, the crusades of the Middle Ages are topical once again. Western support (often Christian motivated) for the state of Israel has not done much towards improving the attitude towards the indigenous Christians. The fate of Muslims in the Balkans in the nineties, and Western interference with Afghanistan and Iraq after the turn of the century, has caused many to shut the door and lock it. Western intervention in Libya against Gaddafi could also suddenly rebound on the indigenous Christians in the whole Middle East.
 
What will the world have come to in ten or twenty years, if our Lord has not yet appeared? Will the controversy between Sunnis and Shiites have altered relations? Will the claims of Christians in the East have been blotted out through oppression, flight and emigration? And will the West have by then become for the greater part Islamic? Who knows (God alone!), there may even be an explosion of unknown freedom; and churches from Indonesia to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania may have experienced dramatic growth through a flood of conversions; a growth greater than the decline of the churches in the spoiled West during the last half century. But there is one thing we need not fear: Islam will not take over the world. That is impossible, for Jesus Christ himself said to his disciples: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16 v. 33)    
 
Rev. de Vries may be contacted at marten@hetkruis.org .