Root Cause and Cure of Unrest in Middle East and North Africa
No doubt, we are living in turbulent times since the beginning of 2011. Numerous causes have been mentioned as an explanation for the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, such as: Demands for political reforms, the overthrow of totalitarian governments, discrimination, lack of political freedom, global economic downturn, high unemployment, corruption, human rights abuses, poverty, rising commodity prices, low wages, bad quality of basic services, a crumbling infrastructure, housing issues, quantitative easing causing worldwide inflationary pressures, etc.1
However, is there one root cause that turns the above mentioned reasons for the current political chaos into mere effects as well? Could it be that it is found in the worldview of people, a belief system that eventually governs most things humans do? Everybody has one, even those who believe there is no God. People who are certain that He exists differ widely in what they believe about Him. Can the Muslim view of Allah be directly identified as the root cause that ignited the present unrest in the Muslim world?
Tawhid, the unity of Allah, used as pattern for Muslim rulers
According to traditional Islam Allah is the “Solitary One.” None other than he is necessary.2 Everything is created for him and managed by him alone. Only Allah is entitled to be worshiped. This description can almost literally be applied to the dictators of the Middle East and North Africa. Like Allah who does essentially what he wills, they too are not being bound by anything or anybody and do as they please. Like Allah who threatens his slaves into submission with fear of punishment and of hell, earthly Muslim rulers try to keep themselves in power by using brutal force on protesters who demand their resignation. Egypt has been one of the notable exceptions because the people’s revolution took place in comparatively peaceful ways. The only explanation for this is found in God’s sovereignty:
‘Our God, your name will be praised forever and forever. You are all-powerful, and you know everything. You control human events — you give rulers their power and take it away, and you are the source of wisdom and knowledge.’ (Daniel 2:20-21)
British economist Brian Griffiths describes poignantly the practical implications for political and economic life, resulting from one’s belief of who God is: ‘When in religion the One is given preference, as in Islam, the consequence has been a form of totalitarian state which attempts to discern the will of Allah...’3
To be fair, other views of God, (e.g. polytheism) or erroneous beliefs held by those who are ‘Christians’ by name only can have a devastating effect too. Griffiths continues:
‘... When the many are given priority the result is anarchy. But the tension is one which extends to economic philosophy. Fascism and Marxism are both an attempt to emphasise the one to the exclusion of the many and to find salvation in economic terms through the state. Libertarianism is an attempt to emphasise the many at the expense of the One and is a prescription not just for laissez faire but also for anarchy.’4
Once again God’s word, this time found in the Zabur (Psalms), has come true when it describes people who invent gods according to their own ideas as,
Those who make them have become just like them, have become just like the gods they trust. (Psalms 115:8)
Solution to the current turmoil: The right view of God
If the wrong view of God is responsible for the mess we are in then it naturally follows that the right view of Him will lead to the only way out of it. The mainstream of Christianity throughout the entire world believes in one God, the Holy Trinity, because God has revealed Himself in that way in His word. It is indeed a mystery, as God Himself is. The incomprehensibility of God is confirmed in the Quran and the Bible.5 Many attributes of Him are accepted by both Muslims and Christians, yet are simply not fully comprehensible to the human mind. We all accept that God has no beginning, yet do we understand this? The common question asked by children, ‘If God made everything, who made God?’ is just as puzzling to adults. Muslims and Christians believe that God is independent of space and time, yet how on earth can we satisfactorily explain how this might be? How is it that God can be nearer to us than our most secret thought, yet be this for the billions of other people on earth just as much simultaneously? These confusing facts apply also to all people in history and the times to come. ‘Impossible!’ the sceptic cries out, yet true. Then why should it be such a problem if there is some aspect of God’s essential nature (his Trinitarian existence) which is difficult for us to grasp? Both, the Bible and the Quran speak about God anthropomorphically (i.e., human terms are used to describe him). Orthodox Muslims do not explain the ‘how’. Similarly, it is a fact that God’s word was revealed in a book, but how the infinite can be expressed in the finite is not clarified. Let us now set the basic framework to get the right view of God.
The Bible categorically pronounces that there is only one God!
Jesus: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ (Mark 12:29, see also Romans 3:29-30, James 2:19)
The Quran too testifies that Jews and Christians, the people of the Book, believe in one God.6 The blasphemous idea of Christians worshipping three gods comes from a wrong understanding of the Trinity. The triads of gods worshipped by pagans are always three separate gods, at the top of a list of many other gods. The Trinity has also been misunderstood to mean that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. Neither are there three substances in one substance.
While the word ‘Trinity’ does not appear in the Bible the concept of it is quite clearly taught throughout its pages. Similarly, the Muslim Creed, known as ‘Kalimah’ does not occur in the Quran. The whole sentence is put together from two different Surahs. Muslims call Allah ‘Al 'Adl’, meaning ‘the Just’, ‘Al Wajid’, meaning ‘The Inventor or Maker’, ‘Adh Dhur’, meaning ‘The Harmful’, etc. based on the list of the 99 names of God. However, these words are nowhere found in the Quran but Muslims still accept these attributes as belonging to God.7 Let us now examine some of the verses in the Bible upon which the teaching of the Trinity is built.
‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Firstly we need to look at the definition of the word ‘one’. “… (It) simply states that it is to Him alone that the name Jehovah (later translated as ‘LORD’) rightfully belongs, that He is the one absolute God, to whom no other Elohim (gods) can be compared. This is also the meaning of the same expression in Zechariah 14:9, ‘Jehovah will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Jehovah, and His name one,’ where the words added, ‘and His name one,’ can only signify that in the future Jehovah would be acknowledged as the one absolute God, as King over all the earth.”8
The word used for ‘one’ in this verse is the ordinary Hebrew numeral, indicating that God is unique as far as his Godhead, His essential nature, is concerned. Some passages use plural forms for God such as ‘Elohim.’ This is remarkable in view of the Old Testament emphasis on the unity of God. It cannot be explained as a plural of ‘majesty’; this was entirely unknown to the Hebrews. It has been seen as on a level with the words for ‘water’ and ‘heaven’, which both also happen to be in the plural in Hebrew. Water can be thought of in individual raindrops or in terms of the mass of water in the ocean. The plural in this case points to ‘diversity in unity’. Some believe that the same is true of the plural ‘Elohim’.9
The Christians definition of Trinity is expressed in the Athanasian Creed:
‘We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding (mixing up) the Persons; nor dividing the Substance (Essence)’
Of course, the English word ‘Person’ is here not used in the sense that describes a human being. It is expressing the meaning of a ‘self with a particular function.’10 In Arabic, the word “Shakhs”, i.e. person, is not used about Allah. He is not a human being. This is why Arabic-speaking Christians use an Aramaic term “Uqnum” (plural Aqaneem = roots or principles) when speaking about the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. They invoke the Trinity with this formula: “Bismi’l Aab, wal-Ibn, wal-Ruh al-Qudos, Ilah Wahed, Ameen.”
It has to be stated emphatically that Christians do not worship three gods but one God because ‘... each member of the Godhead in some sense indwells the other, without diminishing the full person hood of each. The essential unity of the Godhead, then, is found both in their intrinsic equality of divine characteristics and also in the intensely personal unity that comes from mutual indwelling.’11 Thus when God the Son died at the cross, God did not cease to exist but was separated from himself regarding the relationship within the Trinity not regarding his essence. To think that God gave up a perfect relationship for a time shows how great his love towards us is!
‘It is held that although the doctrine is beyond the grasp of human reason, it is, like many of the formulations of physical science, not contrary to reason, and may be apprehended though it may not be comprehended by the human mind.’12 The Trinity of God, like many other facts about him does not have to be understood fully, but to be believed in. Faith, the simple childlike trust that God is and acts as he revealed himself in the Bible, is sufficient for salvation. Similarly, one does not have to understand how a Television set works in order to enjoy a program about nature. A simple touch of the right button will bring about the blessing.
The danger one faces when confronted with extreme or complicated ideas, is, ‘to throw the baby out with the bath-water,’ this means to reject everything about a matter, even the true and the good. Here is what C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge University has to say about such an attitude: ‘If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.’13 More detailed explanations on the Trinity can be found at different places on the Internet.14
God’s true unity determines successful governance of nations
‘... The relevance of the Trinity is to emphasise both, the individual and the state, as well as a large variety of mediating institutions which form the basis of a pluralistic society. As far as economic life is concerned these include corporations, partnerships, trade unions, professional associations, committees concerned with setting standards, and so on.’15
The British economist Brian Griffiths based these thoughts on the fact that the Trinity of God consists of a Unity within a profound Diversity. Humans are made in God’s image.16 This means that like Him they have a capacity for relationships, for thinking, for making decisions and for having feelings. These elements need to be lived out in a united way that allows for diversity. A balanced measure of both is necessary in public life. However, the past move towards multiculturalism and its overemphasis on diversity in Europe and the USA has rightfully been recognised as too extreme. It is indeed threatening the balance exemplified in the Trinity. The unity in these societies which previously resulted from faith in the same Biblical worldview is being replaced by a post modernistic belief that there is no absolute truth. The latter is self-contradictory since its claim is a statement of absolute truth itself. Part of the confusion can be found in today’s perversion of the word ‘faith’. Most often it is used to mean ‘a position held despite a lack of evidence or despite opposing evidence’. The biblical word ‘pistis’ is derived from “peithô” a legal term meaning ‘to be persuaded’ As distinguished intellectuals who are mainly persuaded by arguments (i.e. C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and others) have shown over and over again, the case for Biblical Christianity is solid and can be believed to be true in the biblical sense of the word.17 A society built upon the Biblical worldview will respect, protect and assimilate minorities but they will not be able to dominate it with their own worldviews.
Islam and all other religions except Biblical Christianity teach that human beings are basically good though with the capacity to do bad. When reality fails to match this ideal a totalitarian political system is created to maintain order. As a result leaders like Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Idi Amin slaughtered millions of people in the name of progress. To the contrary the Bible teaches that man is basically a sinner with the capacity to do good. Democracy, despite all its abuses and excesses is built on the truth of man’s depravity. It is designed to cope with a society of sinners. Free markets keep them honest by providing an open, competitive system. None of the alternatives, mercantilism, monopolism or consumerism measure up to it. Free markets, the product of democracy, also encourage enlightened self-interest, a Biblical idea derived from passages where man is commanded to love himself for God’s sake but also to love others for their sake, too.18 Because men are sinners democracy has built up laws to protect the people from its leaders. Power corrupts; therefore it is diffused into the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
The cure to the unrest we are currently witnessing is indeed found in the right view of God’s Unity as described in the Bible. It works itself out best in the political system of democracy. However, we all would do well in realising that if the latter is practiced without embracing the former it will be doomed to ultimately fail as well. Therefore, the courageous people of the Middle East and North Africa do not just need to hear about democracy. They deserve to be told the Good News about God who loves them deeply. He has made Himself known in the Bible in ways no human beings could ever have thought of in their wildest dreams. Far from being unimportant, the doctrine of the Biblical Unity of God provides the very center of a unique message that affects all areas of life. It is only the exclusive nature of God that makes the cross, resurrection, grace, meaningful life and assurance of salvation possible. God as described in the Bible is absolutely instrumental in the success of all our relationships. No wonder He sent His followers to tell the world about Him.
‘Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.’ (1 Timothy 3:16)