The extraordinary events of the last month have taken the most experienced Middle East watchers by surprise.

The unthinkable is at least thinkable: the murderous regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in Libya is tottering and may fall, and who knows what else may follow, or where?

There are two ways of understanding what is happening. The first uses the tools of sociology and politics. These tell us that even the strongest and most ruthless dictator rules only by the consent of the ruled.

If their situation becomes too desperate, and if they are given an alternative vision, then sooner or later their rejection reaches a critical mass, and they take to the streets.

Liberty may be delayed if a tyrant is prepared to “wade through slaughter to a throne, And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,” but not forever.

The second way is to see with the eyes of faith. If we want to give thanks for the downfall of dictators, we are free to do so, but we should be careful.

They have been kept in power by the silence and often the active connivance of the West. The guns used to massacre Libya’s demonstrators have been made in the U.S.A. and the U.K.

Our faith leads us back to the Bible, though; and there we read of a God who has “brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51).

God does not seem to care very much about political calculations, but he does care about justice, and everyone – corrupt Arab dictators, British prime ministers and American presidents – is judged.

When Joshua was preparing to assault Jericho, he met a man “standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand.”

“Are you for us or for our enemies?” he asked.

“Neither,” was the answer of “the commander of the army of the Lord” (Joshua 5:13-14).

That “neither” is a sharp word for both East and West today.

Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.

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