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Jesus, Light in the Darkness

Most of Atallah's significant pronouncements are likely to surprise Western Christians. He doesn't welcome Westerners' indignation at the treatment of Christians in Egypt; from his perspective, it only serves to divide him from his Muslim countrymen, with whom he is largely at peace. He is not as concerned about how Christians will fare under a hard-line Islamist government as he is about the fate of moderate Muslims. He acknowledges that Christians in Egypt are second-class citizens, but points out that they hold an outsize share of the nation's wealth, and have been able to live successfully within the limits set for them.

Atallah's perspective is not shaped by the categories of Western systematic thinking (although he is conversant with them). Yet this doesn't make his thinking alien or inexplicable, if one is a fellow Christian. What comes across instead is a deep well of faith. Perhaps Atallah will be proven wrong in some of his assumptions—e.g., about the relatively benign impact of an Islamist government on the Christian community—but the heart knows that he is right, in a deeper way, when he conveys a courteous, unassuming certainty about his future that supersedes ideology altogether.

He is a Christian, and a contented and victorious one, under conditions of inequality that Westerners think of as unacceptable. As a Westerner myself, I don't expect to ever agree with some of the things about Egypt that Ramez Atallah has no interest in changing or escaping. But as fellow Christians, we can have one heart and one mind in spite of these differences. Atallah is not wrong about the drawbacks of the Western mentality; Christians from different cultures live in different kinds of darkness. But Jesus meets us there, using the particular features of our darkness for his purposes, and becoming the same light for us all.

In the end, Jesus is the only system that matters. The ideologies on which we pride ourselves are dim, 40-watt bulbs in comparison to the radiant sunlight Jesus sheds in our spirits. No condition of the darkness is a limiting factor for Jesus. He makes it possible for us to recognize him in each other, across space, time, and the widest chasms of culture and politics.

In a season of the year when the darkness of night falls early and often, that recognition is a reminder of what the light of Jesus Christ is for. Jesus didn't come to change our systems. He came to change us.

12/5/2011 5:00:00 AM