Lebanese bride Israa Seblani stood in a long white gown and veil, smiling and posing for her wedding video, when the scene was shattered by a horrific roar and a shockwave nearly threw her from her feet.
The footage captured the moment on Tuesday when a massive explosion rocked Beirut, killing at least 135 people and injuring more than 5,000.
Seblani, a doctor working in the US, helped check on the injured before fleeing the area to safety. She said later, “What happened during the explosion here—there is no word to explain . . . I was shocked, I was wondering what happened, am I going to die? How am I going to die?”
“There are no words to describe the catastrophe”
Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate caused the massive fireball that sent a shockwave across the city. “There are no words to describe the catastrophe that hit Beirut,” he stated.
The Port of Beirut was destroyed. Shop and apartment windows were blown out two miles from where the explosion occurred. Losses are estimated to be between $10 billion and $15 billion.
Protests erupted last night in central Beirut. More than three hundred thousand people—more than 12 percent of the city’s population—are now homeless. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured. Images of a shattered city convey just some of the horror.
Why was the ammonium nitrate there? A vessel called the MV Rhosus entered the port at Beirut in 2013 due a lack of seaworthiness and was forbidden from sailing. The ship’s owner abandoned the vessel, and the ammonium nitrate remained in a storage facility in Beirut’s port. Authorities were supposed to dispose of it safely but failed to do so.
Many in Lebanon blame years of mismanagement and corruption by the country’s political leaders. Some speculate that Hezbollah, a radical Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon and is pledged to the destruction of Israel, was holding on to this material to use against Israel in missiles or bombs.
What “could change life as we know it”
The explosion in Beirut was two orders of magnitude greater than the most powerful nonnuclear weapon in the US arsenal. This fact leads to another story in the news this week.
Yesterday was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal states that Saudi Arabia may be working with China to join their number.
Some nine thousand nuclear weapons exist; as the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, “the use of even one could change life as we know it.”
A university professor who studies nuclear events warns that “the risk of a nuclear exchange—and its devastating impact on medicine and public health worldwide—has only escalated compared to previous decades.” He adds that “the developing technological sophistication among terrorist groups and the growing global availability and distribution of radioactive materials are also especially worrying.”
“The linear life is dead”
The tragedy in Beirut and the threat of nuclear annihilation point to the unpredictable and chaotic nature of our fallen world. In Life Is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler expresses this fact bluntly: “The linear life is dead.” By the “linear life” he means “the idea that life follows a series of carefully calibrated progressions—childhood to young adulthood to middle age to old age; dating to marriage to children to empty nest; low-level job to mid-level job to senior-level job to retirement.”
According to Feiler’s research, this idea “seems preposterously outdated.” He discovered that the average person experiences a life “disruptor” every twelve to eighteen months and a “lifequake” (one big event or multiple disruptors at the same time) three to five times in adulthood.
In addition, he reports, the average worker today will hold twelve different jobs before the age of fifty. Those with higher education can expect to change their jobs fifteen times and alter their skill set three times. The typical job now lasts four years; among those under thirty-five years of age, it drops to three.
To navigate such a chaotic, non-linear world, Feiler believes we need agency (“the belief that you can impact the world around you”), belonging (a community that surrounds and nurtures you), and a cause (“a transcendent commitment beyond yourself that makes your life worthwhile”).
Feiler’s insights are more biblical than he may know.
What should be our “greatest fear”?
God’s word is replete with promises of agency, the assurance that your Father can use your life to impact your world even in the gravest of circumstances. From Joseph, Peter, and Paul in prison to Daniel in a lions’ den and John on Patmos, God uses us in spite of and often because of our challenges (cf. Philippians 4:6–7, 13).
Our Father also offers us belonging in a community of faith so strong and enduring that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And he has a cause for us that gives our lives eternal significance (Matthew 28:19–20).
So, admit that you live in Beirut, wherever you live. Pray for those who are suffering and find ways to share with them the hope and community of Christ. Live fully in this day, for it is the only day you have.
And remember: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter” (Francis Chan).
Will your life “really matter” today?