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Who is responsible for the persecution of Christians in this world? Satan and his human followers are the answers we immediately come up with, but these answers sidestep some critical truths. Demons and people can’t do anything on their own, so as Christians are being imprisoned, executed, and tortured in various parts of the world, we need to do more than write songs and books about the horror of it all. We need to recognize God’s hand at work.
So what are we saying—that God is hunting down His faithful followers and handing them over to creeps? Yes, He is. If you’re going to say He isn’t, then you’re left with a God who is either vacationing while His people are in danger or one with zip ties around His wrists. God isn’t bound by zip ties. He is never incapacitated by human will, scrawny demons, His own curses, or anything else. God does what God wants to do, and plenty of times He wants to hand Christians over to be slaughtered.
This is a very disturbing concept, isn’t it? And yet it’s good for us to be disturbed, for it causes us to ask some very important questions. Is God really good if He’s arranging for us to be attacked and tortured? Why doesn’t He reward our loyalty in ways that are meaningful to us on earth? When we start getting honest about who God is and about the fact that He is the true Source of all Christian persecution, we break out of these destructive delusions that we can use good behavior to manipulate God into doing what we want. Serving God so that He’ll give us cushy lives is a lousy reason to serve. The kind of loyalty He demands is of an entirely different caliber.
How did we get so blinded to the fact that God is the One directing our persecution? We should never have fallen into this trap if we’d been listening to the Holy Spirit while we read our Bibles. In the Old Testament, Yahweh gives us a solid education about who is really in control of this world: God is. God starts wars. God raises up terrorists. God drives ethnicities into extinction. God controls all aspects of torture, human trafficking, abuse, and every other nasty thing that goes on down here. This really bothers us. We don’t want a God who gets His hands involved in evil. We’d rather have One who can be outranked by demons and confined by human choices. Well, it’s too bad for us. The Gods who run this universe are sovereign and uncontrollable.
In an effort to avoid facing certain truths about God, we avoid certain sections of the Bible. Avoiding the whole Old Testament is common practice for many Christians today, and because we don’t read Yahweh’s extensive comments about how the world works from the Divine perspective, we remain blinded by ignorance. Yet whenever God starts talking, lessons about His sovereignty are quick to follow and in the New Testament we find enough statements by Jesus to burst our bubble of “God can’t” and “God wouldn’t.” The book of Revelation centers around the theme of Christians being persecuted, and what do we find? God directing the whole situation and nodding His head at His people being brutally slaughtered. When martyrs in Heaven groan over how long God is taking to stop the persecution on earth, His answer to them is quite educational.
They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Rev. 6:10-11)
In other words, “I’m not done yet, guys. There are still more of you that I want to kill.” How not comforting.
When we’re reading about the famous beast who comes rising out of the sea to do nasty things to people, we find more disturbing language:
The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His Name and His dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Rev.13:5-9)
Whoever has ears, let them hear how many times some other, higher Authority is equipping this beast with everything it needs to do its dirty work. That other Authority would be God. In Revelation, this beast represents the Roman Empire–an Empire which was intensely persecuting Christians. The early Christians wanted to blame demons for their troubles, and yet in Revelation, God made it very clear that His Church wasn’t being pounded because the Romans had God in a headlock. Without God, the Roman Empire would have never been formed. It was only because God wanted this Empire to exist that He gave the Romans such favor in battle, and then He used them as an instrument to attack His own followers.
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people. (Rev. 13:10)
This calls for a lot more than patient endurance and faithfulness. If we’re going to stay faithful to a God who thinks it’s a good idea to maim, torture, and kill us, we need to be darn sure that He is good. But then again, suppose He’s not good? What if God were evil by nature? Then we could all rebel against Him and…go where? It’s still His universe. He’s still in absolute control. If God isn’t good, we are in serious trouble. There are no other options. Peter had this figured out, so when a bunch of Jesus’ disciples got tired of Him and left, and Jesus asked if Peter would do the same, he replied:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69)
Once we learn who God is, we realize that He is the only Truth. He is the only Authority. We might not always like His Truth, and we might not like what He does with His Authority, but if we think we can escape His rule we are deluding ourselves. In this world, Christians aren’t persecuted because Satan got the upper hand. Satan gets his power from God, and God then micro-manages the way that Satan uses that power. This is what God teaches us in His Word: that His control is absolute over every aspect of everything that He has created. This is a truth that the Holy Spirit confirms to our souls over and over again as we read through headlines about Christians being persecuted and slaughtered around the world. So given all of this, what should our response be? Should we be sending up a million prayers for God to stop what He’s doing? Should we be telling God He is wrong in the way that He is using His power? Should we be groaning like those martyrs in Heaven and telling God to get off His duff and stop doing things we don’t like? No, we shouldn’t. This is not a reverent way to speak to the Almighty King. We should be honest with God about how much His choices disturb and upset us. We should be honest about the questions it raises in our minds about how good and trustworthy He is. And then we should ask the Holy Spirit to make our view of God one that is both aligned with His truths and honoring to Him.
God is good, He is trustworthy, and He is running this world in a way that is deserving of praise. But He is the only One who can convince us of these things. We’re not going to get there crying over martyrs and making ourselves sick reading graphic descriptions of torture and sadism. We’re not going to get there worrying about the growing power of religious extremists. We must look to God—the very One who is doing all these things—and ask Him to keep us in alignment with Him. Submission takes on a whole new meaning when we acknowledge God’s involvement with evil. Trust becomes far more challenging. But if we are serious about getting closer to God, we can’t back away from these sobering lessons.