Today, America remembers the violence done on this soil by terrorists under the banner of Islam. Around the world, deeds are being done in that same spirit. Muslims of the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Iraq and Syria are using crucifixions, beheadings, and live burials in the sand to destroy Christians. They think their contemptible actions bring glory to God. But they are really shaking their fists in anger at Him through their rejection of Jesus, the Redeemer.
How do we pray in the face of such genocidal depravity?
How can we draw near the throne of the Eternal God in supplication when it seems that He is doing nothing to prevent His people from suffering such horrible deaths? What good is our prayer if the killing just continues?
The Old Testament book of Job – a book where suffering is the main theme – is a familiar story to us. But, in the midst of his suffering, it is still surprising to see how relevant Job’s experience is for us as we pray for today’s persecuted church.
Brutal suffering makes no sense to us.
Job suffers torment upon torment. His pain makes us blanch. His property and possessions are destroyed, all his children are killed, his body becomes a mass of bleeding, ulcerous boils, and then his friends – respected, wise men – rebuke him. Satan is behind all this suffering, but Job has no knowledge of his schemes and cannot understand why God is permitting his living nightmare. From his human perspective, it simply makes no sense.
Just like Job, we sometimes have to cope with incomprehensible injustice. Does God leave us hopelessly in the dark? Surely the God who proclaims His love so clearly would not leave His people completely without an answer in the face of depredations by the Islamic State, would He?
When Job cries out to God for an explanation, he does indeed get an answer. But it is not the one he wants. Ray Stedman’s insightful commentary describes it in this way:
God draw[s] the picture of a vastly complicated, intricately intertwined universe for which is required a tremendous superhuman mind to direct all these activities, to keep life in balance and to answer all the questions that the Lord is asking Job to answer.
God’s essential argument is that life is too complicated for simple answers. If you are demanding that God come up with simple answers to these deep and complicated problems, you are asking Him to do more than you are able to understand.
He is simply saying that only God can adequately deal with the answers to these kinds of questions. Therefore, man must take the position of trusting him — not arguing with him.
God has displayed in the most amazing way His ability to work out complicated situations while keeping human life and the life of the entire world — with all their tremendously involved complexities — in beautiful balance. Now if you really see that, then you must trust God to work out these complicated problems of life.
Are God’s ways truly above the ways of man? Can we apply the Creator’s argument that “life is too complicated for simple answers” to the brutality of Islam-driven persecution? If we can, it means that trying to make man-centered sense of why God allows it to continue is impossible. We are asking for something we don’t have the ability to comprehend. We are asking to understand things that only an infinite, sovereign, and good God can.
That’s a tough answer. It’s not one Job wanted to hear, and it’s not one we want to hear, either.
But God, in His unimaginable grace, didn’t leave Job frustrated with that answer. And He doesn’t leave us with that answer, either.
God told Job to trust Him – and then showed Job a picture of what that trust would lead to. He showed Job a preview of Jesus Christ.
God gave Job the answer.
Job was probably a contemporary of Abraham, so the events of Job take place at least 2000 years before the birth of Jesus. Yet here is Job, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, exclaiming in chapter 9 that:
God and I are not equals; I can’t bring a case against Him.
We’ll never enter a courtroom as peers.
How I wish we had an arbitrator to step in and let me get on with life-
. . . Then I’d speak up and state my case boldly.
As things stand, there is no way I can do it. (Job 9:32-35)
Later, in chapter sixteen, Job cries out with a similar message:
O Earth, don’t cover up the wrong done to me!
Don’t muffle my cry!
There must be Someone in heaven who knows the truth about me,
in highest heaven, some Attorney who can clear my name-
My Champion, my Friend,
while I’m weeping my eyes out before God.
I appeal to the One who represents mortals before God
as a neighbor stands up for a neighbor. (Job 16:18-21)
This is stunning. Job is beginning to recognize what God is really telling him, that the only one who can make Job’s case before God is God Himself.
Job envisions none other than the Anointed One, the Messiah, to be his Mediator before the throne of God. And as that vision crystallizes, Job’s faith strengthens.
By chapter 19 his confidence is up to a new level such that he can express that he knows his Mediator will take his case, and in his flesh will he see God. No matter how much he is persecuted – even unto physical death – Job has faith that his resurrected body will gaze upon his Champion who is none other than God Himself.
Still, I know that God lives – the One who gives me back my life – and eventually He’ll take His stand on earth. And I’ll see Him – even though I get skinned alive! – see God myself, with my very own eyes. Oh, how I long for that day! (Job 19:24-27)
The Message translation of the Bible renders this passage in a straightforward fashion compared to the lyrical and familiar King James, “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” but the message is perfectly clear: persecution – even gruesome, barbaric, stomach-turning torture – does not stand in the way of the life-giving redemption from Jesus the Anointed One.
In effect, God tells Job that He has him covered. Nobody can be Job’s advocate before God except God Himself, and to prove that God is in command and has him taken care of, He shows Job a preview of Jesus Christ.
Job’s answer from God is the same as ours — Jesus.
To the Muslims who are performing acts of violence against Christians, this is still incomprehensible. In their eyes, Jesus, although a prophet, was a mere man, and Allah is a distant and disaffected god who would never stoop to personal, loving intimacy with human beings. Their god demands works from them, deeds (like killing apostates and subjugating non-Muslims) that prove their devotion. They cannot fathom a god that does works for them, let alone a God who has done the ultimate work – their complete redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ.
So, what we are to do in the face of persecution today? Hope against hope that the carnage will stop? Expect that God will act according to what we think should be done about the persecution? Shake our fists at God for His inaction?
No. God has shown us the answer, and it is Jesus Christ. Jesus is our certified confirmation that, no matter how incomprehensible the world is to us, including suffering from persecution, God has everything under control for those He loves.
Christ is the centerpiece of human existence, the focal point of human history, and the author and restorer of all creation. He IS God and is not only approachable – He has sought out our approach and overcome the sin barrier that otherwise prevents our approach.
In short, for us Christians, Jesus Christ is the definitive and unassailable proof that God – despite our accusations of unresponsiveness – does what He says He will do. Even as His people suffer, He is at work. Persecution and pain, tragedy and death…even through these He is able to work together for His majestic, glorious, and good purposes.
Pray “Thanks be to God” that persecuted Christians have a Champion!
Should we weep when our brothers and sisters are being slaughtered in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and so many other places too numerous to mention?
Should we pray fervently that their suffering be eased?
Should we advocate and motivate our governing powers to intervene appropriately?
But more than anything we should pray for the perseverance of these saints in righteousness and fill our own hearts with thanksgiving to God for His Son. We have Someone in Heaven, a Champion, who has defeated sin, death, and the devil. Jesus Christ has already destroyed the darkness that underlies the Islamic persecution of Christians. Our prayer – and our complete confidence – is in thanksgiving that His victory is always before us.
“I know that my Redeemer liveth!”