ISIS: Christians, We’ve Been Here Before

You’re living under a rock if you don’t know ISIS has struck again. People are in fear. Videos are streaming with the fatalities in Paris, Beruit, and Kenya, and every petition under the sun is circulating around the internet for you and me to sign.

Christians feel torn between all the biblical teachings on a situation like this, understandably so. Should we love our enemy? Should we submit to our government’s plans? Should we fight for swift judgment on ISIS in the political square? Should we run and hide if ISIS is targeting, of many, Christians? Should we let the refugees in or should we close our borders? Do we turn the other cheek? Do we fight back? Should we obliterate ISIS or seek to share the Gospel with them?

It seems being as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a dove is not as easy as we all thought.

There are many blogs and leaders in the Christian sphere that have done a great job explaining angles of this entire global situation. I will not try to be as wise as them, or as experienced in the public forms of politics and faith.

I’ll just say two things

  1. This has, in a sense, happened before.
  2. We don’t have to choose between the earthly and the heavenly.

See, sometimes we Christians view life in an all-too-compartmentalized way. Shouldn’t I be a good citizen and trust my government? We sometimes lean into earthly forces as our hope for security—governments, national security, the militia, etc. When flesh and blood attack, in a practical sense, flesh and blood have to fight back, right? Aren’t we supposed to defend the rights of the weak, as in Proverbs 31:8?

And then we turn around and feel rather torn. But shouldn’t I also lean on heavenly security—God’s provision, protection, and work on my behalf? We are also told in Ephesians 6:12 that our battle is not with flesh and blood. We are told to let God defend us and be our refuge and our victory.

Therein lies the rub. So how do we pray?

I’m not a prophet or a daughter of a prophet. I’m still learning as I go, but I’ll tell you how I’m praying about ISIS.

I’m praying for both earthly, governmental intervention and heavenly, divine interruption as well. There’s no one who says the two are mutually exclusive—not even Jesus.

From the earthly perspective, I am praying for swift judgment and severe penalty to be laid on the heads of those who commit such violence in the name of the Divine. The Christian Scriptures are unique in that they give high esteem to local and national governing authorities. We are told in Romans 13:1-7 they are God’s temporal provision to restrain evildoing in the world, and that we should respect their authority as from God himself.

From the heavenly perspective, we know that a heart cannot possibly change no matter what kind of external restraints are put on it. Real and deep heart-change comes only from the Lord, as I’ve seen in my own life and in the stories of my brothers and sisters in the faith. So, yes, I pray also that God would interrupt the leaders of ISIS in a profound way as in Ezekiel 11:19 and Jeremiah 24:7.

apostle-73715_1920Like I said, we’ve been here before. We well-know the man that could be considered ISIS-like. His name is Paul and his divine interruption happened on the road to Damascus.

My small group girls and I have been studying through Galatians, and as he pens a rather intense letter to the people of Galatia, I am reminded of his war-torn, confusing, amazing, overwhelming, and unbelievable story.

We forget our beloved and cherished apostle Paul, prior to his conversion, was a religious fanatic who slit the throats of Christians in the name of God. We forget that before Jesus interrupted his efforts, he believed he was doing the right thing in his violence toward others who did not share his beliefs.

We forget one of the most piercing verses of Paul’s story in Galatians 1:23: “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!”

We forget that even when believers heard Paul had converted, they still feared for their lives, wondering if it could possibly be true. Was he faking it? Was this another ploy so he can get close to Christians just to kill them?

The man was part of stoning Philip the Faithful to death and was proud of it. He slayed women and children. He was as radical and religiously steeped as ISIS is.

We forget that before Paul founded us, he was beheading us.

Yet his story tells us that he was not unreachable by God.

It is scandalous to the world that God would love someone that disguistingly devoid of compassion. Why would God not just take him out entirely?

Well, God did. So to speak. He took him out in a way we’d never expect.

Jesus revealed himself to Paul and interrupted his life’s mission, dramatically changing his entire worldview.

Paul the Christian-slayer became Paul the Christian missionary, the Father of Christianity, planting churches and encouraging persecuted believers all over Asia Minor and Europe.

Paul, the most important figure of the Apostolic Age, the famous and steady hand behind early Christian expansion, the reason most of Christians today are actually Christians, once covered his sword with the blood of the people of the Cross.

Paul’s life tells me something when I look at ISIS.

You know what it is?

The Conversion of St. Paul by Hans Speckaert, circa 1570

That God can interrupt any life he wants to. That God is able. That God can use world governments to crush the diabolical evil in our midst from the outside, surely. But He can also change a system like ISIS from the inside if He deems fit. He can draw any soul from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of light at any time, even when that soul isn’t expecting it. Heaven knows Paul wasn’t expecting it.

We forget Paul wasn’t a “seeker.” Paul hated Jesus and all his strange followers. Paul wasn’t looking for spiritual answers; he thought he already knew all of them. He was the top of his class in Judaism and he was proud of it. This talk of Jesus who claimed to be God and His followers was not just strange to Paul, it was disgusting, offensive, and in need of a swift end. It was a horror to be stifled, an abomination, treasonous to the One True God. Paul took pride in the fact that it was his job to put an end to all these foolish, brain-washed adversaries.

Sound eerily familiar?

Yet God did not wait on Paul to be a “seeker.” God simply interjected when God wanted to interject. See, Jesus interrupted Paul when Paul was adamantly against Him in every way possible. God had plans to infiltrate Paul’s efforts, but not from the outside. From within.

God takes some people out using his ordained means of world governments, and we are to be thankful for their presence in the world to restrain evil. Other people he takes out by changing their heart.

See, a bloodthirsty person no longer thirsts for blood when God changes him on the appetite level. A person made new by Christ receives new desires altogether. This is what happened to Paul.

And I believe it can happen to ISIS.

Like I said, this has all happened before. We get to read the record of the most unexpected conversion in human history. God’s done it before. The great beheader of the strange Christ-people became the great beholder of the Christ-man himself, and it changed forever the faith-trajectory of the world. 

Why could it not happen now?

Now, I don’t know which way God wants to work in the world of ISIS. Maybe they will be conquered through outside, earthly institutions that God orchestrates to squelch evil. Maybe God will change the leaders from the inside. No one knows if ISIS will be conquered from the outside or from within.

So, honestly, I pray for both. I pray fervently for God to change these leaders on a heart and mind level, and I also pray that world governments rise together to put an end to the needless, horrific shedding of innocent blood.

Those are my prayers. But in the mean time, I’ll tell you something.

If a throat-slitting zealot like Paul can become an agent for light and love that impacts the faith of billions, God is real and he is powerful and I trust him. 

Our God was not pacing around heaven, wringing his hands, wondering what in the world to do with Paul and all his violence. Paul and his followers did not back God into a corner with fear tactics or bombs. He had no such power over God.

And neither does freaking ISIS.

Even if it cost us our lives, fear is not our answer, church. Fear is what both our earthly and spiritual enemy wants, but it’s not an option. Why? Because it’s not the response of our God. And it certainly won’t be mine.

 


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