If you have paid any attention to my Facebook recently, you know that I have been grieved and disturbed by what is happening in Iraq recently (as are most). If you have followed my journey over the last few years, you may have realized I have become a (sometimes hypocritical) pacifist. And if you have known me for an even longer period of time, you know that I am a domesticated redneck who likes guns and fighting to defend God, family, and country.
What does all this mean? It means that when situations like the one in Iraq arise, I become a very mixed bag of emotions. The redneck in me wants to send troops, drop bombs and seek justice! The pacifist in me submits to Scripture by turning to prayer. Most of that prayer is spent asking God why I can’t do more than pray. This is what happened this morning, and here is what came of my time with him:
Evidence of a restored relationship to God is evidenced in one's relationship to self AND others AND creation. One cannot live their relationship with God on an island of self. God is driving all of creation towards restored oneness. The others include the Church, neighbors, and enemies, i.e. all of humanity. Creation includes all that is.
The Christian life is a lifelong process of learning to live into the Way of Jesus, bearing his image. Discipleship is the necessary component to participating in restorative oneness as Jesus teaches us to love God, self, others, and creation unto oneness. What does it mean to love? Love's greatest testament, according to Jesus, is to lay down one's rights even to the point of death. So a big part of discipleship is learning how to, like Jesus, lay down our life for the sake of God, others, creation, and our ultimate self (Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33).
The story of the Christian is the story of God (according to the Hebrew Bible and New Testament) manifested most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our story is not a temporal one but an eternal one. Christians must keep their eyes focused on the eternal glory, which is the consummation and completed mission (oneness) of God. Justice for God's people is not immediate but deferred. This is why Christians must join with the saints in praying for the return of Jesus. Until then our primary right is to lay our life down, even to the point of death, even death on a cross.
I.e. God's response to my praying was to remind me of the Gospel Story.
The earliest Christians were often the target of persecution and, unfortunately, this persecution often led to death. This type of death that Christians died, in persecution of faith, became known as martyrdom. The word martyrdom comes from the word martyr, which means to bear witness. These early Christians did not believe in violence, war, or retribution. They believed in peace and forgiveness. Rather than fighting with swords and violent weapons, they fought with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In doing so they bore witness to the life, death and RESURRECTION of Jesus. God had fulfilled the story of Israel and was putting an end to death and separation. The Christians, through their proclamation and witness, were asking, “Where oh death is your sting? Where is your victory?” (1 Cor 15:55). God was making the world one.
The result of martyrdom over the first few centuries was the exponential growth of the Church. When people should have been fleeing Christianity due to extreme persecution, people were actually flocking to it. Why? Because in Christ’s victory there is peace and there is hope. Church historians have gleefully (I suggest it should be grief-fully) exclaimed that the seed of the Church is the blood of the martyrs. History bears witness to this fact. Whenever Christianity has been persecuted to such high extremities it has grown.
Is this a good thing? Some will argue that even though this may be true it is not necessarily good. The Constantinian Church has committed great atrocities. I include within the Constantinian Church the Catholic Church, Geneva Reformation/Church, and the American Protestant Church. I could list more but the point is that when the church acts in a violent and controlling manner, it is no longer acting as THE Church. Christians, who make up THE Church, follow the Prince of Peace. Peace in the eyes of Jesus looked like sacrifice and/or martyrdom not war and perpetual violence. This world needs peace and the way to peace is by following the Prince of Peace.
What is happening in Iraq may be genocide, and I pray (without ceasing) that it stops immediately, but I also pray that these Christians (young and old) who have died and are dying become martyrs. My prayer for them is that they are strengthened and emboldened in the Spirit to fight with proclamation of the Gospel and bear witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I pray the Spirit gives them words to enlighten the hearts, minds, and spirits of those who are witnessing these atrocities. And I pray the Muslims in Iraq are more sensitive men and women than the Christians who stood by silently in Germany while Hitler convoluted God’s word into extreme anti-Semitism.
Some may think I am crazy (2 Cor 5:11-21). If you are not a follower of Jesus, I completely understand your point (Acts 26:24). If you are a follower of Jesus, I might suggest you look to his Way. When I prayed and asked God why, or more honestly, why I cannot do more about the Iraq situation, his response was to share with me the Gospel Story. The Gospel Story is the story of Jesus fulfilling the story of Israel, which was a story meant to be a blessing for the whole world (Gen 12). Some may ask why the Iraq Christians don’t just denounce their faith, and I suggest that it is for this Gospel Story.
As Christians, our response to situations like the one unfolding in Iraq is not to turn to our guns and bombs, but to turn to the Gospel Story. Proclamation of peace and victory over death is our greatest weapon!