Free Lebanon and Eternity

By: Dr. Charles Malik

From Charles Malik’s book “ Lebanon In Itself “ Translated from Arabic by Dr. George Sabra and Revised by Kenneth Mortimer (The Murex Series By Notre Dame University, Louaize, Lebanon.)

When Lebanon labored in the United Nations to establish the dignity, rights and basic freedoms of the human being in the unique and magnificent formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the depths of Lebanese being spoke through the mouths of its representatives. The story of that labor has not yet been written; in its existential hidden aspects and secrets it will never be written.The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins as follows: “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”

And Article One states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The truth is that without that dignity and those rights, without that freedom and brotherhood, without that reason and conscience, Lebanon would not have been, and it would not have been able to live and endure in defiance of the ages and epochs.

That is what we have many times said, declared and recorded before the whole world, and what we have, finally, worked to incorporate in those texts. I assure you that the annual world celebration on December 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a celebration of Lebanon Day. The whole world knows Lebanon’s contribution; it testifies to it on that day, but, alas, we have not yet put it at the forefront of our official national holidays!

I return to freedom and respect to say: Freedom is not an idea or a feeling or a fantasy. In fact, freedom is nothing if it is not embodied in free persons. Freedom is the free existing human being, and the free and responsible human being is the greatest and most important institution of the Lebanese heritage.

At the summit of the Lebanese heritage there exists the free human being, if he actually exists.

The free person does not lie or dissemble.

The free person knows the virtue of silence.

The free person is not overcome by demagogy or ambitious lust; lust for rule or domination is farthest from him.

Free persons fully understands resentment ands spite, hatred and slander, mean spiritedness, intrigue and conspiracy in the dark, when they pass through them, but the free go through them without any trace left on them.

The free person creates every moment – he creates himself as a free person.

Free persons are hard on themselves until creativity explodes in them.

Their concern is to be raised to the fullness of oversight and creativity, and to come to be in the act of creating.

Whereas they await the creative moment with patience and long-suffering, they create when it arrives, and when it does not come, they kneel down and pray.

The free accept crucifixion and on the third day they rise.

The free do not ask about death, nor do they fear life. They welcome death if life is in it, and if honourable and free life requires death, they live it.

Their concern is to remain masters, not over others, but over every darkness and vileness in their souls.

Are they controlling their thoughts, organizing their imaginings, curbing their emotions, restraining their tongues, bearing their suffering, accepting their destinies, criticizing themselves? These are the concerns of the free.

The past does not enchain them except insofar as they repent. True repentance liberates them from the past. It liberates them, not because it derives from them, but because it is from God.

The free avail themselves of being because being found them before they found being. It found them, sat, dwelt, and settled down among them.

The free do not analyse, scrutinize and reject – the free wonder and love.

The free give credit to others and acknowledge sources; they declare to whom they are indebted.
If freedom means the necessity of falling, the free man becomes a slave to what he falls into. As for the free, they explain their freedom as maintaining the possibility of falling, without actually, falling.

The free person knows quite well that being does not depend on him, on the contrary, he knows and admits that his own being depends on real existing being.

The free live in the world, but they are not of the world. Freedom is an exalted firebrand coming form above.

The free acknowledge what is above, and they acknowledge him on whom they depend; that is why they are free.

The free live and mature with the free, without copying each other. If a free person is a perfect copy of another free person, then he is a slave.

It is friendship, companionship, sharing and love that strengthen freedom among free persons.
Free persons seek the free in every corner of the universe, in time and place, and then they find each other, whatever be the differences in language, times, traditions, gender and religion, it is as though they found God in their faces.

The whole of existence is ultimately contained in the free existent human person. Every heritage that is not built on free persons and does not create free persons in a sterile heritage. The free existing human person is the primary institution of heritage, and every other institution derives from him and leads back to him. He is the hope of existence and heritage. Unless our institutions are able to create the responsible human person, it is vain to boast of freedom and absurd to speak of heritage.

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Finally, I move to “Lebanon as eternal”.

The Arabic tradition has reserved for Lebanon the most beautiful of descriptions. In the Hadith it is said: “Among the mountains of paradise are Uhud, Mount Sinai and Lebanon.”

At-Tabari narrates, citing Ibn ‘Abbas, that Amin built Al-Bayt [holy place in Mecca] out of five mountains: Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, Lebanon, Al-Joudi, and Hira, on which he built its foundations.”

It is told of Ka’b Al-Ahbar that he said: “Lebanon is one of the seven mountains that shall bear the throne on the day of resurrection.”

Arab historians mention God’s saying to Abraham when he ascended Mount Lebanon: “Behold, what you see is holy.”

As for the Arab poets, such as Al-Mutannabi, Abu Nawwas, Al-Buhturi, An-Nabigha Al-Shaybani, Nabighat bani Thibian, Ibn Khafaja Al-Andalusi, and others, they sang the beauty, impregnability, resistance, and permanence of Lebanon and its mountains that are hung from the sky, and the hospitality of its inhabitants. They extolled its beautiful women, wine, apples and pleasant waters, and associated it with might and exaltedness.

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The verses of the Bible are possibly the most remarkable mentions of Lebanon. The Bible contains the earliest reference to Lebanon, but in such a way that only God is mentioned more often. Lebanon is mentioned 71 times, the Cedars 74 times, Tyre 58 times, Sidon 35 times, and the Sidonian 14 times.

This is by no means an insignificant thing if we know what the Bible is.

In Ezekiel there is a very harsh prophecy concerning Tyre, a prophecy that was fulfilled in history when Tyre fell from the glory of greatness to the lowliness of disgrace. The reason for the severe judgement, according to the Bible, was the wealth, opulence, wantonness, commercialism, pride, and material greed into which Tyre had fallen, and also its self-sufficiency apart from God:

“Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, thus says the Lord God: Because your heart is proud, and you have said “I am god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas, yet you are but a man and no god, though you consider yourself as wise as a god…in the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned…by the multitudes of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries…therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you consider yourselves as wise as a god, therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most terrible of nations, and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendour.” (Ez. 28)

This terrible and formidable judgement was uttered by Ezekiel against Tyre, and it was historically executed in deed. The same judgement is passed today and forever on all materialism, greed, injustice, arrogance, false self-sufficiency, empty boasting and divinizing of the human being apart from God. If our age has one distinctive trait all over the world it is precisely that of materialism, greed, injustice, arrogance, self-sufficiency, and distance from God, by which I mean the old Tyrean trait. Thus, the judgement on Tyre has become an eternal judgement on all materialism, greed, injustice and self-sufficiency. Lebanon rejoices today in fear and trembling because God used an aspect of Lebanon’s life to judge the most contemporary spiritual perversion: materialism, atheism and human self-sufficiency.

All this relates to the “eternal” use of Lebanon to judge every distance from god and all self-sufficiency in the material and the human.

I said that Lebanon is mentioned 71 times and the Cedars 74 times. More important than the mere mention of a thing is the context and the occasion on which it is mentioned. If we restrict our study to Lebanon and the Cedars only, with the exception of the above-mentioned reference, the strange thing is that there is not one mention of them in the Bible in any context or occasion where they are even remotely associated with criticism, condemnation, or censure, or disdain. The context is mostly that of love and exaltation; the milieu often inspires reverence and honor.

“Let me go over, I pray, and see… that goodly hill country and Lebanon.” (Dt. 3:25)

“…and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold, None were of silver…” (1Kings 10:21)

“May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the top of the mountains may it wave; may its fruits be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities.” (Ps. 72:16)

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courts of God.” (Ps. 92:12-13)

“The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon which he planted. In them the birds built their nests.” (Ps. 104:16-17)

“Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.” (Song of Songs 4:11)

“Your lips distil nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon.” (Song of Songs 4:15)

“His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars.” (Song of Songs, 5:15).

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Is. 35:1-2)

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall some to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising…The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious. (Is. 60:1-2;13)

“Does the snow of Lebanon leave the crags of Sirion? Do the mountain waters run dry, the cold flowing streams?” (Jer. 18:14)

“Thus says the Lord god: a great eagle with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors, came to Lebanon and took the top of the cedar.” (Ez. 17:3)

“I will be as the dew of Israel (Israel here means the Church in Christian belief); he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the popular; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon”. (Hosea 14:5-7)
Jesus said to the woman who came from the region of Tyre and Sidon crying out for mercy for her daughter who was tormented by a demon: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” (Mt. 15:28)

Such is the testimony of the Bible about Lebanon. What counts most is what the testimony involves in terms of meaning and inspiration. What has Lebanon meant in the Bible? What has its name been associated with in the Bible? What has Lebanon inspired in the minds of those who wrote the Bible?

Lebanon inspired and meant the beautiful mountains, the cedar forest “Which the Lord planted.”

It inspired and meant the abundance of grain that waves, the flowers of the grass, nectar, honey, milk and gold.

It inspired and meant pure gold, choice wine and pleasing fragrance.

It inspired and meant the cypress trees, oak trees, olive trees, larch trees, grain, vines, lilies and dew.

It inspired and meant gardens, snow, rivers, living water, and cold flowing waters.

It inspired and meant the beautiful bride whose beauty surpassed all imagination.

It inspired and meant everlasting righteousness because “the righteous grows like the cedar of Lebanon”.

It inspired and meant “the house of the Lord”, “the courts of our God.”

It inspired majesty, glory, brightness, dignity and shining countenance.

It inspired joy, rejoicing, and song.

It inspired the Lord’s shining light.

It inspired the great eagle.

It inspired great faith.

If we know what the Bible is, that it is a book written over a period of 2000 years, that it’s testimony about Lebanon is one and continuous from its beginnings to its end, and that it is the most disseminated book in the world, if we examine carefully the intensity, quality and content of this testimony – if we do all this, we shall be overcome by two strange and contradictory feelings. The first is a feeling of great joy because the great Book gives such an extraordinary testimony about this great country. The second is a feeling of deep existential shame because what Lebanon means in the Bible and what the Bible means for Lebanon, do not, alas, correspond to some aspects of reality in Lebanon.

In the gloomy tension and conflict between the joy and this shame, the responsible, sincere and understanding Lebanese spends his entire life.

No doubt the eternal is ancient, and we decided at the beginning not to indulge in the ancient past but to look up to the future ahead. Yet, the future is not created out of nothing, it is drawn by the eternal. The Bible occupies a special place among the books of eternity, and so its testimony shall abide forever, and with it shall remain the picture it draws of Lebanon. In other words, anyone who reads the Bible – from now until eternity – will meditate on the Bible’s eternal portrayal of Lebanon. In Lebanon, we live in the shadow of what eternity has written fro us, what it expects of us, and what will not leave us until we become it in reality. Eternity, therefore, is not neutral in relation to us, and we are not located outside its judgement. Eternity has favored us with a unique care. Our joy in such care is only matched by our sense of its heavy burned on our shoulders. But God charges not a soul except with what is within its power.

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