How should we, as Christians, respond to ISIS?
For most things, clarification and disentangling of different meanings present in a word is helpful. I believe that by ISIS we generally mean two things at the same time which together form one thing; namely a group of people who do certain types of despicable things. Firstly, we mean the actions of ISIS. Secondly, we mean the individuals in ISIS. We do not have to feel the same way about both (besides the fact that we could not, even if we wanted)! In order to determine how we should respond to ISIS we are going to try untangle how and why we feel the way we do, why we do not have to, why ISIS is what they are, and how we (being who we are) should react to them (being who they are).
Our Fear of ISIS
I am not, here, interested in the probability of ISIS doing certain things or the power of ISIS to do these things. In some ways, I think, this is simple enough. We are afraid of ISIS and, since fear is a horrible emotion to feel, we try to dull it with hatred. Further, the actions of ISIS are, in fact, completely worthy of hatred. First, why are we afraid? What exactly are we afraid of?
Fear, I believe, has to do with feeling that that which matters to one is at risk, and may be lost. So, what does matter to us? Our lives? The lives of our loved ones? Our environment and way of living? The environments of our loved ones? Could these things be lost? Yes. We all know that, to some extent. However, we try to do what we can to prevent such loss, which is not necessarily wrong, provided we do not place our trust in our ability to do so, or become too obsessed with trying to do so. Provided we remember to keep first things in first place, and that God is in control. [Ro 8:28, Job 42:2, for ex.] However, it seems to me, very often we don’t. We forget that we – all – belong to God, and that He is sovereign in everything. We often don’t – though sometimes we do – worry too much about possibilities that are not right in front of our face. However, in general we don’t live in constant, conscious trust that God loves us and that nothing can thwart the will of God. For the most part we are not stupid enough to think that God can not accomplish His will, but we are not concerned with God’s will; we are concerned about our will. Fortunately, for the most part we are not stupid enough to expect God to accomplish our will, but if we are we not only get angry when things don’t go our way, we get angry with God and feel He has let us down. Sometimes, some will even doubt His existence.
However, when we don’t expect that God will accomplish our will, but we are not seeking God’s will, then we easily get frightened, when reminded of all the different ways our will could not work out. Our will well may be what we call ‘good’, however we know that it may well not be God’s good and that we can not depend on Him to carry out what is not His good. Nonetheless, we feel that it is ‘good’ and that it ‘should be’, and we fear that it may not be. Sometimes we even dread what may happen instead. Fear is horrible to experience and so, since we feel that our will is ‘good’ and ‘right’ and ‘how things should be’, we feel justified in hating whatever it is that, we feel, threatens our will, in order to dull our fear, and also just because we are angry that our lives have been disrupted, and we want to take out our hurt on the perceived cause. We have our will, and we want to be a little god to defend our will and punish those who threaten or destroy it.
ISIS is such a threat to us. Whatever the actual probability of such an occurrence, we may feel like ISIS could blow up our local supermarket, causing us endless hassle and disruption with our plans at the best, and taking our lives at the worst. As a result, we feel fear, and besides, blowing up a supermarket is a pretty evil thing to do! So, we feel justified in our hate, though much of its purpose is to prevent us from feeling our fear to the full. Human beings, sinful and self-centered as we are, have a habit of wanting to do (or not do) something, and then finding a way to rationalize it. (This need to rationalize our actions often helps prevent us from doing certain detestable things, as we can not think of a way to justify them to ourselves and others, but it also means that we fail to see much of our sin, as we are so busy hiding it under rationalizations and justifications, the purpose of which it is to hide our sin from ourselves. Sometimes we get upset with God because He sees right through all our rationalization.)
Ultimately, however, all these things – our lives and the lives of our loved ones, the environments we live in, and all things that can be destroyed – will be lost. Part of our fear of ISIS may be, not even so much that we fear them doing this or that, but that they remind us that all these things will, someday, be lost. [ 1 Co 3:12-15, Heb 12:27, Mt 6:19 for ex.]
What ISIS Just Can’t Do
What if we concerned ourselves with things that will last, with the things of God? What if we set our hearts on eternal things, things which can not be taken from us? What if what was important to us was not our life and how we live it, or those of our loved ones, but the eternal life we have in Christ Jesus, and living our lives to the glory of His name? In the end, all the things we fear ISIS might take from us will be taken from us. It will be clearly evident that the only things that ever had any value in the first place were those that were done in Jesus Christ. [Jn 15:5, 1 Co 3:12-13 for ex.]
However, nothing can take our salvation away; nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even when we feel that we are completely alone, that even He has left us, we know that He has not, in fact, left us. We have His promise to never do so. [Jn 10:28-29, Ro 8:35-39, Heb 13:5-6,8, Mt 28:20, 2 Co 1:22, Eph 1:13-14, for ex] If what we are depending on is Him, if what matters to us is Him, then we can not lose that on which we depend, that which matters to us. ISIS can not take Him from us (no one else can, either). Even if we don’t cling to Him, He will keep us. He is Almighty God; ISIS can neither take us from Him nor Him from us. Even if they kill those we love before our eyes, even if they slowly torture us to death, they can neither take us away from Him, nor Him away from us. If we have committed ourselves to Jesus Christ, if we know Him as our Lord and Savior, ultimately, there is nothing ISIS can do to us; we are safe in Jesus’ love. Paul wrote that the sufferings of earth can not even be weighed against the glories of Heaven, [Ro 8:18, 2 Co 4:17-18] and he was no stranger to suffering. He had been beaten eight times, stoned, and shipwrecked multiple times, besides a lot of other difficulties. [see 2 Co 11:24-27]
Neither our sins nor those of the people who form ISIS can separate us from God’s love, or thwart a single one of God’s plans. [Eph 1:11, Job 42:2, Ro 8:28, 5:20, Ex 14:4,18 for ex] God will work all things together to the glory of His name and our good in that glory. God can, and does, use even our sins and the sins of others for His glory, [Ro 5:20, 1 Ti 1:15-17 for ex] and though that is neither an excuse nor permission to sin, [see Ro 6:1-18] it does mean we do not need to fear or worry about sins, our own or others’. We have a very hard time seeing this, and often simply can not see it at all, and we don’t have to; we can trust His promise. [see 2 Co 4:18, 5:7 for ex] I believe, part of the reason for this is so that we can learn to trust Him. If we always saw, we would not need to trust, would we? Perhaps, we should view it as an opportunity to learn to trust Him more when we just can not, for the life of us, see what God is doing or how it works, as that song “Tis’ So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” says.
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus
O for grace, to trust Him more
God is in control of everything. He can, and does, not only work through our sins for the praise and glory of His name and the fulfillment of His plans, but He will not allow anything to occur unless He wishes to so use it. Our circumstances are always what God has allowed, and we do not ever have to worry that anything that is outside of God’s will will ever happen to us. His Church is staying in the world until He wills otherwise. This means that, though we are commanded to, and should in fact, pray that God’s will be done, in our lives and in our world, we do not have to worry about it! He said that whatever we ask for in His name He will do. That does not, of course, mean just ending our prayers “in Jesus’ name”. It means, I believe, praying in Jesus’ will, praying as those who are one with and represent Jesus. Obviously, praying the prayer Jesus taught us would be praying in His name.
Why The Individuals In ISIS Are What They Are
To go back to the garden of Eden, the first sin, committed by a human, was that of wanting to have God’s role, of wanting to be ‘a god’. [Gen 3:4] Satan’s sin, too, even before the garden of Eden, was that of wanting to be God. [Is. 14:12-14 for ex] I’m not sure that sin itself, though it takes a million different forms and expresses itself in a million different ways, would not be well defined as ‘wanting to be God.’ Sin generally involves wanting to have something one’s own way, wanting to be right, wanting to define reality, etc. We all do this, though we might express it very differently.
The individuals in ISIS are, I believe, no exception. We all have some innate knowledge of the one true God, and we all choose not to recognize Him and give Him His due. [Ro 1:19-21 for ex] The individuals in ISIS, I believe, whether they admit it to themselves or not – I suspect few, if any, of them do – know that Islam is not the truth. I also believe that they also know – though, again, I seriously doubt that they allow themselves to know so – that Christianity is the truth and the good news. At any rate, I believe, they could know, if they would simply let God tell them. Not that any of us are any different about that, except for those of us who have finally let ourselves hear God. Of course, I’m sure that everyone in ISIS would deny this, but then again, we all would have denied it too, had someone told it to us, before God finally got our attention. To accept the truth of the fact that we refuse to hear what God is telling us is very nearly to finally hear what God has been trying to tell us.
This situation doubtless aggravates the people in ISIS, whether they realize it or not. Though they deceive themselves and trick themselves into not seeing what they could, they can not totally escape the truth. In their desire for ‘what they believe‘ to be right, despite their knowledge, deep down inside, that it is not, they feel a need to prove to themselves that they are right, and that all other beliefs – particularly the one that really is true – are in fact false religions. The very fact that it is the truth tends to make people hate the truth all the more, because the truth witnesses to itself and faces them with the fact that they are wrong, far more than any falsehood does. [Jn 3:19-20, 7:7, 12:47-48, Heb 4:12 for ex] (A falsehood will not make one face the fact that something else is false, because the fact that it is false does not cause it to falsify that something else. However, the truth does make one face the fact that something else is false, because the truth testifies to the fact that is is, in fact, the truth and that there is nothing else that is itself, namely, that is the truth.)
That, I believe, is why ISIS hates Christians as much as they do, and why anybody else who hates Christians does so. Essentially, they are fighting God, just like Satan. They are trying to be God, to make themselves to be right and God to be wrong. They go to the extremes that they do because they are fighting a battle that they can not win, and in some sense they know it. They are fighting against the very fact that they know they can not win. They threaten, slaughter, and even torture, us because they, in some sense, know that we have the truth and good news – something, rather, someone worth suffering and dying for, – and they do not, and they feel a need to prove that it – He – is not what He is, that is, is not the truth and good news. They try to make us recant because they feel a need for that which we profess to be false, and they feel this need so strongly precisely because that which we profess is, in fact, the truth. Very likely, the more that they see the courage and commitment of Christians the more they want to break it, precisely because it drives home the point: they are wrong – sinners in desperate need of a Savior – and God is right, holy and righteous. They want to eliminate Christians because they do not want any reminders that they are wrong and their way just does not work.
In a sense the reason ISIS tries to terrorize us is because they are, in fact, – though they would not admit it – in terror. Terror of their sin, terror of hell, terror of a holy and righteous God who will not let their sin pass. From the little bit that I know of Islam, and this is consistent with the state of our fallen race, they believe they have to earn their way to heaven, earn the forgiveness of any sins they commit. From what I’ve heard, they believe Allah loves only good people and hates bad people. (Deep down inside, who among us really honestly believes that he/she is good? Have we not just deceived ourselves in the hopes of a – temporary – false comfort and security?) They could hardly help but know that Islam is not The Good News, that the gospel (that’s what gospel means), of Jesus Christ and His death for the forgiveness of sins and His resurrection from the dead, is.
So, though it in no way excuses it, – their problem on the insides of themselves is, after all, their own fault in the first place – they do the awful things that they do because they have an awful problem inside of them.
How To Respond To ISIS
I think a key thing to remember is that the people in ISIS are sinners, and so are we – sinners saved by grace. Being a sinner is both a hateful and a miserable condition. The outrage we feel at the detestable things that ISIS is doing, God feels towards all sin. Frankly, the people in ISIS are miserable, though how miserable they may not know, and, at any rate, they will be miserable for all eternity if they stay as they are. They are also quite hateful (both in the sense of being consumed with hate and being the sort of creature that can be hated). Sin is detestable, through and through, and a sinner is defined by sin, and therefore detestable, through and through. However, we who have been forgiven through the shed blood of the Son of God, through Jesus’ suffering, as if He were a sinner even though He never once sinned, [2 Co 5:21, Is 53:4-12 for ex] have no right hating anyone. God hates our sin, and He laid our sin and all it’s shame and punishment on His own Son so that we would not have to bear it ourselves, because He loves us despite the fact that we’ve sinned and He hates sin. Sin is evil, and to be honest, it would be wrong not to hate it! God does not, however, hate us, despite all our sin, and we should not hate the people in ISIS, despite all their sin. God has had compassion on us in our miserable and hateful condition, despite the fact that we had brought that condition on ourselves through our own choices, despite the fact that He warned us ahead of time. He yearns to have the same compassion on the people in ISIS.[1 Ti 2:4, 2 Pe 3:9, 1 Jn 2:2 for ex] We are called to extend the same love, the love that He has given us, to everyone. [Mt 6:12, 10:8, Lk 10:30-35 for ex] That generally involves our neighbors and siblings and whoever we get the chance to interact with, but it does not exclude the people in ISIS.
God somehow managed to get through to us and save us, despite our sin, despite the fact that we fought Him, in one way or another, despite our stubbornness and rebellion. I believe that He can do the same for the people in ISIS. Remember how He took Saul the Pharisee and zealous persecutor of His Church, and transformed him into Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, persecuted for the sake of Christ? I firmly believe that He can take ISIS militants and transform them into passionate Christians! He can take people who hate His very name and seek to destroy His people into some of the most passionate, most committed, loudest proclaimers of His name and spreaders of His gospel. I suggest that we pray for Him to do so – all over the world!
Furthermore, Jesus actually commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. [Lk 6:27-28, Mt 5:44, Ro 12:14 for ex] Since we are so inclined to see these people in ISIS as our enemies – in a sense they actually are, since we are all members of one body in Christ, and so the Christians they are persecuting, torturing, and killing are really brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we will spend eternity [1 Co 12:12-27, Ro 12:5, Gal 3:26-27, etc] – and be afraid of them, perhaps we should do the only thing we can for them – pray for their salvation! Pray that God would pursue and convict them and bring them to a willingness to admit that they got it all wrong and are detestable sinners in desperate need of a Savior, and save them. I am sure that would be something which He longs to do.
I also believe that, rather than allowing ISIS to instill fear in us, we should praise God for the fact that we have lived this long, to tell others about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified for our sins and risen again, and, more importantly, that, whatever they think or we feel, we are safe anywhere, though they are safe nowhere. In addition, we should remember that suffering for the sake of Christ was promised, [Jn 15:18-15, 16:1-4, 17:14, Lk , 21:12-19, Mk 10:29-30, 13:9-13, Mt 10:17-25, 24:9, 1 Jn 3:13 for ex] that is is a reward and a result/mark of our identification with our Savior [Mt 5:10-12, 10:24-25, Lk 6:22-23, Mk 10:29-30, Jn 15:19-21, Jn 17:14-16, Ph 1:29, 2:10, 1 Jn 3:1, 12-13, 1 Pe 2:12, 20-21, 3:14-17 4:12-16 for ex] and that it is an opportunity to testify about Who He is [Mt 10:18-20, Mk 13:9-11, Ph 1:12-14, 1 Pe 2:12, 3:14-16] and, should we be called on to receive it, to rejoice, as He has commanded us. [see above references]
Most importantly, we need to remember Whom it is that lives in us, Whose business we are to be about, and in Whose strength we are to live and endure. [Jn 15:5-8, Ph 2:12-13, 4:13 etc] We need to treasure God’s great promises in our hearts, and truly believe them. Above all else, to put it simply and quickly, we need to trust God. He will empower us to do His good will, and He will shower upon us His peace, joy, and love, if we will come to Him and remain in Him, in trust. [Jn 14:27, 15:5-11, 16:22-24, 17:13, 26, Ph 4:6-7, etc]
Also, we should be reminded of the persecuted Church, we should pray for them, [Heb 13:3 for ex] and we should be inspired by their courage and faith, to cling more closely to Christ and less to our earthly desires and fears, and to do what ever it is that God has called us to do for the glorification of His name and the proclamation of His gospel. Yes – as their lives and deaths testify, and as by-man-uncounted thousands have been so testifying for nearly two thousand years – Jesus is worth facing anything; His love is better than life, [Ps 63:3] for His love, His own self, is the only true, eternal, life! [Jn 1:4, 17:3, Ph 1:21, for ex]
This, I believe, is God’s challenge to us, His Church in America, through the whole ISIS scare, and ringing in the commitment of His persecuted Church: to live in total commitment and devotion to Jesus Christ, and to lay aside everything else that draws and consumes us, to forsake anything that may come between us and Him, us and our devotion to Him, to live, every moment, for Him alone. Once we have received Him as our Lord and Savior nothing, even ourselves, can actually, ultimately, separate us from Him. However, if we allow them to do so, things can draw us away from Him and interfere with our relationship with Him, preventing us from truly experiencing His love which is better than life and from both living for His glory and will and discerning His will. Sooner or later, in one context or another, we will have to choose which matters most to us: Jesus or our own will for our lives.
Copyright 2016 Raina Nightingale