The scene was absolutely shocking as massive explosions rocked the city of Beirut, Lebanon.
One moment, life was totally normal. Seconds later, and without any warning, scores of people were dead, thousands were injured, buildings were flattened, and parts of the landscape were wiped bare.
It is devastating enough just to watch the video of the blasts on our small cell phone screens, thousands of miles from Beirut.
But what was it like to be there?
In the words of eyewitness Bachar Gattas, “You can see injured people all over the streets in Beirut, glass all over the place, cars are damaged, it is like an apocalypse.”
Apocalypse was the right word to use, as the images emerging from the port of Beirut could have been taken right out the Apocalypse itself – the Book of Revelation.
A foreign news outlet described things in similar terms, “Apocalyptic scenes saw a thick red-orange mushroom cloud envelop streets surrounding the port, where buildings burned and emergency crews frantically searched the rubble for survivors.”
Martin Chulov, covering the tragic events for the Guardian, tweeted a quote stating, “‘Scenes from the apocalypse that is #Beirut tonight. We're cursed’: shock and despair as explosion devastates city.”
Apocalypse is the operative word, repeated in headline after headline and story after story.
How should we respond to such horrific, painful news?
There is still no word as to the exact cause of the explosions, although there is all kinds of speculation.
But whatever (or, perhaps, whoever) caused the blasts, the loss of life and the terrible suffering remains the same. And the fact this happened in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis makes the hardship all the more acute.
How, then, should we respond?
The first thing we can do is pray. Pray for mercy. Pray for healing. Pray for hope to arise out of despair and for light to arise out of darkness. Pray that somehow, something redemptive can come of this terrible event, both on a personal and national level. And, if this was a terrorist attack, pray for justice and for the uprooting of such evil.
The second thing we can do is help. In the days ahead relief agencies will be offering tangible support on the ground, and many of them could use financial help, at the least. If there are organizations we know to be authentic that will be serving the hurting people of Beirut, they are worthy of our support.
The third thing we can do is reflect. One day a rebellious world will be leveled. One day, God’s wrath will be poured out on unrepentant sinners. One day everything will be shaken. (To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting the tragedy in the port of Beirut was due to the wrath of God. Absolutely, categorically not. But at a sobering moment like this – an agonizing, shocking moment – it is good to engage in serious reflection.)
I devoted a whole chapter to this subject of the end of the world in When the World Stops: Words of Hope, Faith, and Wisdom in the Midst of Crisis. It was sobering to write and it is sobering to read. And at times like this, when the images of a mushroom cloud and the sounds of the explosion are fresh in our minds, we do well to stop, consider, and reflect.
Look at this devastating description from the Book of Isaiah: “See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants— it will be the same for priest as for people, for the master as for his servant, for the mistress as for her servant, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The LORD has spoken this word. The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left” (Isaiah 24:1-6).
And consider how often Paul wrote about the coming wrath, with words like these: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 5:6).
And reflect on this scene from the Book of Revelation itself: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” (Revelation 6:12-17)
Certainly, we can debate the exact interpretation and application of these passages, especially from Revelation. But what seems clear is that final, terrifying judgment will come to this planet, and the only refuge will be found in a right relationship with God.
Yet one day, after the Lord’s return, paradise will be restored, right here on planet earth. And Lebanon, once famed for its natural beauty and resources, will serve as an image for the blessing of God.
As Isaiah also wrote, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.
“Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’ Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
“And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:1-12).
May the Lord hasten that day!
And may He bring healing, hope, and redemption to the hurting people of Lebanon today.