1. WHY IS PERSECUTION STILL A VERY PRESENT TOPIC?
Coming from a country that encourages racial unity and religious tolerance, I ask myself why persecution is still a very present topic in our modern world. Why haven't we outgrown the selfishness and pettiness that stem form our religious differences? I have asked myself and God some hard questions about persecution of Christians around the world today. I cannot say that I grasp everything on this subject but I did get some clear truths and assurances from the Bible. This paper is more of an interaction between my thoughts and readings and the Scriptures. My conclusion may not seem revolutionary but doing this paper has revolutionized my thinking and my view of God.
2. MEANING OF PERSECUTION
First of all, I had to start on ground level and ask myself, "What is the meaning of the word persecution?" I learned that Persecution is: "The constant affliction of another so as to injure or distress for reasons of religion, race etc." (Webster's New World Dictionary). Next, I looked online for current cases of persecuted Christians in the world. What I found from the website "www.persecution.net" broke and angered my heart. I realized that persecution is very much a part of our world and has been for centuries. Here are just a few of the many recent cases I learned about:
Threats remain on the Indonesian archipelago, which is 80 percent Muslim and 16 percent Christian. Most of the Laskar Jihad extremists returned to their native Java, from which they plan to launch assaults on other islands. At least 3,000 Islamic extremists have amassed in West Papua (Irian Jaya)- a 73 percent Christian region that Laskar Jihad has declared as its next target.
As Christians from overseas, we are able to meet in our church building again. We were not allowed to do so when the Taliban were in power. We had to meet in different houses. The Taliban would not let us go back to our original church building. When it comes to Afghans confessing that they have become Christians, this is still very dangerous. They could be imprisoned and even killed. The present Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mullah Fazul Shinwari, on one occasion openly stated that if Afghans become Christians, they have to be killed. (One person's journal)
Human Rights organizations report that Muslims coerce conversions by offering money or by abducting and raping Christian girls, then forcing them to marry. In the past year, local authorities closed one church. A mob torched another and the Egyptian army partially razed a Christian shelter for children. Historically the government has only raised objections to such abuses. In 1992, December 25 fell on a Friday, the Muslim day of rest, when Pastor Oswaldo "Wally" Magdangal was to be hanged in the Saudi capital of Riyadh for blaspheming Islam. Shari'ah law requires beheading for "apostates"- those who renounce Islam - as well as for murderers, and no Friday passes without at least one such execution in the public square following noon prayers, rights organizations say.
3. A QUESTION TO GOD FROM COUNTLESS MEN AND WOMEN: WHY, GOD?
I asked the question,
God, why are the Christians always the subject of ageless, worldwide persecution? Why is persecution such a problem even in this world of modern technology, intellectual enlightenment and Human Rights and International Organizations? What good could possibly come out of such cold-blooded hatred? I am not the only one to ask this question nor will I be the last. I am sure that this question has been repeated by countless men and women throughout history.
The Epistle of Diognetus was written in the early part of the second century. This excerpt reflects my sentiments but puts emphasis on the eternal value of being a Christian -
The flesh hates and wars against the soul, suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshly pleasures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason, but that it resists its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and members by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul is enclosed in the body, but holds the body together; so the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison; but they contain the world….They do good and are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive….They are in the flesh but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives. They love all and are persecuted by all ...
In response to my own question of "Why God?" I read the words of Jesus from Matt.12:25,
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
5. THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY
One way I know that Christianity is the truth is by the simple fact that Satan has tried over and over throughout the years to annihilate it. After reading Jesus' words, I am reminded that Christianity holds something dangerous and frightening to the powers of hell. I see that Satan is radically opposed to every single person who names the Name of Jesus because by Christ's very name, the whole earth trembles and the forces of hell are put to flight. Christians are those who confess Jesus as their Savior and live their lives for His purposes, even to the point of death. The power that Jesus gives to each believer, according to Luke 10:19, is for him to "trample on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy ..." Why wouldn't the devil try to get rid of such a threat to his kingdom?
Jesus also said to His disciples in John 15: 18-20,
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, "A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you ..." Just as Jesus predicted, most the early apostles were also persecuted and martyred for their faith in Jesus. "Peter and Paul were killed as martyrs in Rome during or after the period of Nero's persecution."
6. WHAT GOOD COULD POSSIBLY COME FROM PERSECUTION?
After asking the question, "why," I asked God, "What good could possibly come from the persecution of your people?" Matthew 10:16-20 says, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. And when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak but the Spirit of you Father who speaks in you."
It seems that God has a very different plan for each of His children. To some, He calls to a life of suffering, giving grace in the time of need. God's purpose in the midst of persecution is for a strong testimony to go forth. Even in the midst of hatred, God's truth and love still overcomes evil. God's kingdom is totally contrary to everything the world stands for. When the world seeks to kill, maim and injure, God wants His children to minister love, hope and blessing.
7. IN THE DAYS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
In the days of the Roman Empire and the persecution of the early Christians, it is said, "The term "martyr" originally meant "witness" and that is precisely what many Christians were at that moment of death. The Roman public was hard and cruel, but it was not altogether without compassion; and there is no doubt that the attitude of the martyrs, and particularly of the young women who suffered along with the men, made a deep impression. In instance after instance what we find is cool courage in the face of torment, courtesy toward enemies, and a joyful acceptance in the face of suffering as the way appointed by the Lord to lead to His heavenly kingdom." (Church History in Plain Language, p. 50)
8. SURRENDERING TO GOD
God also intended for us to come to the place of full surrender to Him and to His will, no matter what the cost. God says to His disciples in Matthew 10:38, 39, "And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." For many of us in the Western world, denying ourselves or "losing our lives for Christ" may not have the same implications as for a Muslim convert in the heart of Afghanistan. It is true that many of us are called to deny ourselves and pray and intercede on behalf of our brothers and sister around the world who are being persecuted. We can suffer with them through prayer and genuine concern as if we ourselves were suffering with them. For many others however, persecution is very real and very much a part of life. God has shown me that I may or may not be called to suffer physically for Him but I must come to the place where I know deep in my heart that my life belongs to Him, no matter what the cost. Persecution allows us to come face to face with the question, "Am I really a child of God? Do I really believe what I believe and if so, how much am I willing to give for my faith? This paper has made me ask myself the question, "What is the good of living all of my life for Christ if I am not ready to also die for Him?"
9. PERSECUTION WILL ALWAYS BE A PART OF THIS WORLD
To conclude on this subject, I realized that realistically, persecution will always be a part of our world until the coming of Jesus. This may seem like a hopeless thing to say but the great thing is that Jesus has already won the victory over Satan, sin and death! This world might seem hopelessly hopeless at times but God is still in control and He works all things out for the good for those who love Him. It might seem that nothing good could come out of persecution, but God has shown me that His glory, His triumph of truth and the defeat of Satan are all evidenced in the midst of persecution.
In Revelation, we see the greater, picture from the ultimate battle between God's kingdom of righteousness and Satan's kingdom of hatred~ "So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world…Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of the brethren, who accuse them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death." (Rev. 12: 9-11)