No one knows what will happen in Libya, Yemen, or Bahrain. Interested parties– in-country nationals, foreign governments, journalists and observers, international businesses, and non-governmental organizations (to name a few)– prepare for different scenarios, assess risks and opportunities, seek analogies to the past in order to make some sense of the present, and wait.
At a surface level it seems incongruous to bring what we know of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures to bear on the popular upheavals in these countries. The populations are predominately Arab and Muslim, not Jewish or Christian; current commentary on religion with regard to these uprisings is limited to the question of whether the overthrow of these authoritarian regimes will lead to Islamists obtaining power.
According to the Biblical account, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures acts in history. If that is so, how would we know today? Is it helpful to seek signs of God’s presence in events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the protests in Tahrir Square? What if God’s involvement in history is quiet and anonymous, undetectable by the daily reports of the BBC or of Al Jazeera?
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama advanced the idea of the “end of history”: with the fall of Soviet-style communism, obviously Western democracy was the final goal of the evolution of governance. That’s a quasi-theological notion, because it deals with ultimate outcomes– in this case, the ultimate outcome of the evolution of human arrangements of political power.
If it is too soon to discern whether, where, or how the God Who Makes All Things New is acting in the Middle East (and it is too soon), one thing that the Biblical account makes clear is that God’s involvement in history is surprising, disruptive of human totalistic schemes of domination and uniformity, and biased toward the weak and powerless.
We should watch for these things in the Arab world; we should watch for them in the United States, too, as history continues.