A man prays outside Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, shut during Israel’s lockdowns. Photo credit: Reuters

Lament in lockdown: a message from the Arab Israeli Bible Society

We are in an era that's seen many societies affected by Covid-19. This virus has disturbed our health systems, financial outcomes, social interactions, and spiritual growth. The society we live in is the outcome of human choices and decisions. This means that human beings can change things. What humans break, divide, and separate, they can with God’s help also heal, unite and restore. What is now happening in our region does not have to be. 

So many dear friends are crying and suffering. They had worked so hard, reached major milestones, and had attained real stability. And then came the coronavirus, with the loneliness, the lack of getting out, the anxiety and edginess, and feelings of unproductivity. Their houses of worship closed, too – Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques and others – as part of the fight against the transmission of the deadly virus through social gatherings.

A discarded face mask floats in the Dead Sea. Photo credit: Reuters

Some people are experiencing the sharpest grief. For them, a response of simple solidarity is appropriate. Many people suffer more slowly and less sharply; in this pandemic, much suffering will be doled out in slow doses as its social and economic consequences spread, even apart from new physical and spiritual needs. 

Live church services are non-existent. Access to unfiltered Zoom and Facebook for fellowship was exciting in the beginning. Soon enough, though, the new experience dwindled down and the number of participants with it. All other activities depended on social media platforms – schools, workplace, and college – and the experience has been too much for some. Many workers and students were enthusiastic about the fact that things can be done from home. But learning slowly became difficult and demanding, and workloads started to shake the family peace.  Anxiety, violence, anger and pressure rose. Some reverted to a former lifestyle as a default stress reliever – instead of a good fellowship time or family fun time or normal exercise or even a visit to the family.

There are others who are faced with injustice amid the pandemic. They have physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. They feel oppressed, discriminated against and alienated. They looked for a comforting hand or a thoughtful communication. Out of distress they asked some questions like Habakkuk: ‘Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore, the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted’ (Habakkuk 1.3–4, NIV).

God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: he aligns himself with our will and says, 'I will.’ 

So, do we end this post caught up in depression? Absolutely not! Everyone here at the Arab Israeli BIble Society, after digesting the above reached out for help – and reached out to help. People around us in schools, churches, youth ministries reached out to hold on to our hands. Listening and validating their pain, suggesting some tools and plans, praying and sharing the word of God, are all ways that will help them unload, and show them someone cares. It is reassuring to know one is not alone and is not a loser. There are many who are suffering and many others are struggling badly. We reached out and planned to comfort and help through many workshops on anxiety, time management, building relationships, etc. 

Therein lies the hope – and the challenge. Our cry to the Holy One who sits on his throne and indwells the hearts of men was: ‘Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle within us the fire of your love. Come, Holy Spirit! Breathe into us a fiery passion for justice. Especially for those who have the breath of life crushed from them.’ Amen.

Fareed Shehadeh
Project Leader at The Arab Israeli Bible Society 

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