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27.08.2021

Afghanistan: All for Nothing?

Tragic. Dangerous. Unnecessary.

Tony Blair recently used these words to describe the Afghanistan crisis. Despite the ex-PM’s reassurances that the UK’s sacrifices were not in vain, Blair conceded that gains of the past two decades are likely to be lost.

Melancholy pervades the news: twenty years of intervention in Afghanistan has amounted to nothing. Or so we fear.

Charities continue to bravely serve the most vulnerable, enacting our prayers and deploying our giving with practical help both on the ground and for refugees in the UK.

But these efforts are symptom-management of something more troubling. Judging by the headlines, ‘tragic, dangerous (and) unnecessary’ suffering seem to be the norm in our world.

We might question whether our efforts to make the world a better place will ever make a difference. The words of a biblical author ring in our ears: ‘all the things that are done under the sun … are meaningless, a chasing after the wind’ (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

The situation in Afghanistan stirs questions we often do our best to avoid. What if our work is all for nothing? What if the sacrifice was in vain? What if it’s all meaningless anyway?

But look carefully, and you may catch a glimpse of a different story.

A pregnant Afghan refugee boarded her evacuation plane and went into labour during the escape from her homeland. Moments after landing at a German air base, a baby girl was delivered in the aircraft’s cargo bay.

A birth to a refugee, in an unexpected setting, is a Good News story worth noticing.

There’s a force at work in the world more powerful and more beautiful than we’re often shown. The gospel of Jesus tells us as much.

And wherever gospel-affected people apply themselves, their efforts tell the same story – be it in Afghanistan or aisles in Asda, with refugees or mums-to-be, in boardrooms or playrooms. Sin and chaos are pushed back. The power and the beauty of the gospel break in.

This is not triumphalism that turns a blind eye to tragedy. Christians rightly mourn and pray for Afghanistan. But underlying these prayers is a conviction that in God’s story, tragedy gives way to joy. Danger will be overcome by peace. Through the cross, we have hope that what seems like unnecessary suffering will one day be revealed as sacrifice not in vain.

It is not all for nothing.

 

Tim Yearsley
Programme Leader – Emerging Generations, LICC

Comments

  1. We should pray that the seeds of civilisation that were sown in the 20 years will grow and eventually flourish. Certainly the fact that from almost zero in 2001 girls came to comprise 3.5 million of 9 million schoolchildren, women’s life expectancy increased from 56 to 66, and 27% of MPs were women indicates a changed benchmark and hopefully an irrepressible force.

    Two thirds of the population is under 25, so would have no memory of previous Taliban rule, and is used to something very different, including music. Modernity is a genie which is out of the bottle – the country has greatly changed in 20 years even if the Taliban hasn’t.

    By Ian Hore-Lacy  -  27 Aug 2021
    • Thanks Ian – such helpful insights, based on solid data. While our ultimate hope is that God will redeem this situation, however bleak it looks, faithful work in the past has planted seeds of hope that we pray will grow in this desperately challenging new season.

      Dave Benson
      By Dave Benson Culture & Discipleship Director, LICC
    • My thanks too, Ian. Your stats are cause for hope alongside a gospel-perspective. We continue to watch and pray.

      By Tim Yearsley  -  31 Aug 2021
  2. Tim, I have found your words encouraging today. Thanks for helping me process my thinking on this issue.

    By Richard  -  27 Aug 2021
    • I’ll pass that on – thanks Richard.

      Dave Benson
      By Dave Benson Culture & Discipleship Director, LICC
  3. Thank you Tim for a hope-filled message in what seems like a bleak week. The ‘small gains’ of sharing God, applying the Word to the world and not despairing, are all so important.
    Thankfully God is still on the throne (Rev 18-19) in the middle of such awfulness, and for that I’m truly grateful.

    By Becky  -  27 Aug 2021
    • Amen, Becky. Well said.

      Dave Benson
      By Dave Benson Culture & Discipleship Director, LICC
  4. Wishful thinking, the emptiness of our efforts is so unbearable that we desperately introduce meaning in the meaningless ness. Isn’t that the point of Ecclesiastes: an exhortation to stop interpreting everything in order to be free to live life as best as we can with its tragedies and joys.

    By Lydia  -  27 Aug 2021
    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lydia. There certainly is wisdom in not overreaching with our interpretations, inserting meaning where there is not. And that’s something we pulled back from in the post – implying that *every* bit of suffering is meaning-full or necessary. Much suffering in the world, and certainly plenty in this past week, may well be unnecessary, abominable, depressing.

      Ecclesiastes is a tricky one to interpret, as there is both a teacher (Qoholet), and a narrator who tells us what it means. The teacher is exploring the meaning of it all ‘under the sun’ – meaning from within a purely immenant/human frame, devoid of input and interpretation from above. And, yes, from this vantage point, our efforts in Afghanistan and the promise that good may yet result is ‘wishful thinking’.

      But Tim’s point – located within the larger canon of Scripture – is that at least *some* suffering is redemptive: namely, what Christ achieved on the cross, with resurrection life coming through a tragic and seemingly unnecessary death. And if the entering of a baby into the world under Roman occupation, followed by a genocidal purge by Herod, could objectively bring hope to a dark planet, then we have cause to hope (beyond wishful thinking) that the seeds already planted in Afghanistan may yet bear good fruit.

      Note, though, that this ‘hope’ *isn’t* – as you imply – grounded in the substance of emptiness of human efforts. Rather, it’s grounded in God’s goodness and provision. We are simply invited to locate our efforts within his work to make all things new. A long and winding story indeed. But this mission stands. And our hope therein, however dark these days look. Thus, ‘don’t give up’ (as 1 Corinthians 15:58 also concludes).

      Praying we each find what’s needed to not simply console ourselves with wishful thinking, or get on with interpretation-free life – potentially closed to the cries of the oppressed, for it seems pointless to pray or help or do anything – but make a difference even in the smallest of ways, partnering with God for the life of the world. Blessings as you do this, too, in your own way.

      Dave Benson
      By Dave Benson Culture & Discipleship Director, LICC
      • Amen to that. Partnering with God is a key concept we find difficult to grasp and act upon, I am more comfortable trusting God’s love and power to redeem any situation than looking at meaning a posteriori (like a numberless ‘connect the dots’ game, which dots do we choose to connect?)
        But sometimes even with knowing this, there’s a time where the only appropriate response is to wail, fall flat on our faces, cry and shout at God, as the wisdom literature encourages us to do…

        By Lydia  -  30 Aug 2021
        • Astute reflections Lydia, thank you for taking the time to write. Agree that lament is much needed in this situation – a church leader over the weekend led us in prayers from Habakkuk 1. Powerful stuff. – Tim

          By Tim Yearsley  -  31 Aug 2021
  5. Inspiring thought, thanks

    By Bruce Gulland  -  27 Aug 2021
  6. Bleak week. Dastardly days. Holding on to hope in the midst of mist. Lament pray act. No easy answers. Not alone.

    By Jii7  -  28 Aug 2021
    • Pithy but powerful summary of the situation. Thanks Jill. Blessings this day.

      LICC Editor
      By LICC Editor
    • Yes, thanks Jill. A good summary of what I tried to get my teeth into in many more words! – Tim

      By Tim Yearsley  -  31 Aug 2021
  7. Whilst I agree with the ‘hope in darkness’ gist of what Tim says, why is the most obvious, most Biblical lesson from all of this being so neglected here? Is the silence due to “political correctness”?
    What is the (“located within the larger canon of Scripture”) point of view of any false religion & the effect it has on a nation? What do all the Apostles & Prophets warn is the RESULT of false doctrine & false gods?
    According to the Pew research survey of 2017, 99% of Afghans believe that Sharia law should be applied in their country, 96% that it is their obligation to spread Islam amongst “non-believers” (ie Christians amongst others), & 80% were in favour of the standard Death-Penalty for leaving Islam. The Muhammed of the Qu’ran & Hadiths would have no trouble whatsoever with what the Taliban are doing, including the forced marriages of under-age girls.
    It is truly illuminating to see that when even a strictly, Muslim country is confronted by the possibility of losing it’s Judeo-Christian influenced freedoms & the possible imposition of authentic Islamic standards then there is a heart-breaking rush for the airports!
    But how many who have tasted the liberties of a “Christianised” Europe/USA are trying to throw themselves onto moving aircraft to get to Muslim countries & be ruled by Islam?
    Of course this is a tragic situation, but that is what cults & false religions, according to the Bible, bring about.
    If your highest moral compass (Qu’ran 33.21 & 68.4) is a thieving, slave-bartering, racist oath-breaking murderer who marries a 6-7yr old girl, owns sex-slaves, executes critics, promises endless sex-paradise to yr followers & says that women are half-witted & the main occupants of Hell, who says not to make friends of Jews & Christians,….etc..etc…..then how is that ever going to work out well?
    When authentic Islam is applied – as opposed to the milk’n’ water Westernised version- misery follows. Just ask the Christians in Iran or Nigeria or Pakistan etc.
    Why not point to the authentic source of the problem, eh? The (real) prophets & apostles did, without apology. Certainly there are lessons about human nature, sin in general, that we can take away, but let’s not overlook the obvious. “All for nothing” is what we move closer to if we do not learn these basic, Biblical lessons about false religions. We are not the BBC for goodness’ sake.

    By Mr Michael Brittain  -  28 Aug 2021
    • Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to engage. The situation in Afghanistan certainly is heart breaking, and also complex, and the Pew research findings are interesting – though Afghanistan has been a Muslim country for centuries, since long before Taliban rule, and so it may not be as simple to assert that the present situation is purely down to Islam, nor that what we’re seeing is the only true or authentic interpretation of the Qu’ran.
      As for the effect of false religion or idolatry on a nation, I would agree that Scripture is clear – most clearly seen in the prophetic literature – that worshipping other gods quickly leads to injustice and moral decline. But, as the Bible also points out, we can find false doctrine or false gods not just in other organised/traditional religions, but also in the many idols we all too often set up in our own hearts. Even in the ‘Christianised’ West, the prevailing culture suffers from the effects of sin and rebellion – our false doctrine and false gods are sometimes just a bit more hidden.
      If a lesson to learn from this tragic situation is that false religions don’t work out well, may that guide our prayers for Afghanistan but also for our own nation, and hearts, as we hope in the goodness and mercy of our loving God, and live out that goodness and mercy on our frontlines.

      Matt Jolley
      By Matt Jolley Culture & Discipleship – Research & Development, LICC
      • Fascinatingly evasive! This rather confirms my initial fears about political correctness.
        Particularly in the shadow of 9/11, we have a Christian obligation to be more honest about Islam, haven’t we?
        This is not a time for ambiguity or equivocating.
        When confronted by Muhammed’s [Islam’s], historically absurd, 600 years late, attempts to re-write the Gospels & the life of Biblical characters, & degrading the character & life of Christ etc is that really just one “interpretation” of the Qu’ran?

        When Muhammed is advocating the violence, paedophilia, cruelty, women-abusing, treaty-breaking, Jew-hating, found in the Hadiths & Qu’ran are we really supposed to just gloss over this with a, “Well, organised religion can be problematic” or, “We all have idols in our hearts, after all!.” as you suggest? Really!?
        Muhammed is pretty explicit. “Certainly we have revealed clear communications….” (Surah 24:6)
        Is there, perhaps, some other version of the Qu’ran & Hadiths where he changes his mind?
        The alternative “interpretations”. EG that the 72 large breasted virgins awaiting you in paradise are actually “raisins”, or that “scourging” your woman meant “tickling”, or that it’s only “naughty” Jews which are to be hunted down etc are public relations evasions for the gullible, not real interpretations, as a check of the sources soon makes clear.
        I can send a list of references if you like, but it is probably too long for a mere “reply” slot.
        The Taliban simply do not bother with the pretence.
        No country under Islamic laws is free from it’s inevitable abuses. [An 8year old Hindu boy was recently arrested in Pakistan for blasphemy because he wet himself in a library next to “sacred literature”. He & his parents have had to go into hiding.].
        For this reason, the Muslim Afghans who had, for 20yrs, tasted even a watered-down regime, are not so keen to see authentic Islam back in action! They did not want to go back their previous centuries!
        I would not dare to say to a persecuted Iranian Christian, “Well, there are troubles in OUR prevailing culture.”. We cannot minimise Muhammed’s pernicious influence without becoming complicit in a popular cover-up.

        The LORD has given us at least two major reminders this year that (although there are other problems in the world), we should be more honest about this one.
        It is certainly true that “our false doctrine & false gods are sometimes just a bit more hidden” but since when does that mean that violent & dangerous false gods should be hidden BY US? Why should they be protected & made to look more harmless than they are?
        The goodness & mercy of our living God comes through the proclamation of Truth.
        For an alternative response I would recommend David Wood’s “9/11; 20 Years & 40,000 Terrorist Attacks Later” video.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_z7hjbDpQc

        By Mr Michael Brittain  -  11 Sep 2021

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