When you hear the words "Middle East," what comes to your mind? For many, a slew of negative associations pop up—wars, sectarian killing, religious tension, suicide bombers, kidnappings, trauma. But we forget that this region is the physical context for much of the Bible. It is the rich backdrop for Scripture's stories—and God's promises.
The Bible’s Rich Context
Did you know the Garden of Eden was in today's Yemen? Or Abraham's hometown in Ur is a city in Iraq? Joseph was taken as a prisoner to Egypt, where he became the Prime Minister to save his family. The cedars of Lebanon, used in metaphor by the psalmist (Psalm 92:12), can still be seen in that country. Jesus walked on the shores of the Sea of Galilee asking Peter to take care of his sheep. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus. And Jesus's first followers were named in Antioch, today's Turkey.
Despite the gloomy portrait that the media has painted, I choose to think of the Middle East as the place where God chose to manifest salvation to all people. I think of it as where the majority of the Bible was written, handed down from generation to generation, and preserved. It is the cradle of Christianity, the geographical location where God's Son was incarnated and will return again.
Yet much of the world, including the global body of Christ, has lost hope in the Middle East—"A cultural genocide of Christians is erasing the presence of faithful from large swathes of the Middle East, the very heartland of the Church" (John Pontifex, Aid to the Church in Need's UK Head of Press and Information). The region revolves around a displaced population; wounds run deep and turmoil persists.
Our feelings towards the Middle East seem to be indicative of what we all struggle with, no matter our location: maintaining hope in broken places. Yet it is often the most desperate situations that teach us what hope really is.
Here are three things the Middle East has taught me about maintaining hope:
1. Hope is a choice
In his book The Hope Habit, Terry Law, founder and president of World Compassion says, "Hope is a choice, not a feeling"; it is about choosing "confident expectation of the goodness of God" over fatalism. As Christians, we can choose the greatest offering of hope in Christ.
Steven Covey says, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom—our choice—and our power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness."
What is our choice? This is not about mere optimism or positive outlook in life. It is about trusting in God's providence, provision, and power (Jeremiah 29:11).
2. Hope is abundant
Supplies of hope are unlimited. And we experience hope most powerfully when we are living with insecurity, not just living peacefully in our comfort zones. Real hope, like fine gold, must be purified by fire: tribulation, perseverance, character. It is the path towards fullness in Christ.
3. Hope is everywhere
Hope is God's gift to all people. It is universal and indispensable, like the sun’s light. We sometimes choose to ignore it. But with hope, we can embrace change in the conviction that change can move us towards a better future. If we embrace change with the eyes of faith, then God will make everything new.
Loss of hope has been identified as the most crucial symptom among young Middle Easterners—and it is something people struggle with globally. But we can offer an alternative to this lost hope. We hold the key to the source of hope. And Christians who embrace hope as a habit of life can affect those around them through the giver of hope, Jesus Christ. Scripture encourages us, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13 ESV).
Our biblical story is one of God entering into fallen humanity to bring peace, reconciliation, and healing. There is no darkness that can put out God's light—no amount of war, division, or history of unrest. This is the promise we hold to, embedded in the Bible's context and geography. It is still spelled out in the night's sky as I sleep, under the same stars God showed Abraham.
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