Recently I received an email describing atrocities by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) against Christians in Syria and Iraq. The writer concluded, “May I plead with you not to ignore this email. Do not forward it before you have prayed through it. Then send it to as many people as possible. Send it to friends and Christians you may know. Send it to your prayer group. We need to stand in the gap for our fellow Christians.”
I did pray and will pray more for persecuted Christians, but I find myself unsettled and unsatisfied by the call to prayer as our way of “standing in the gap”. For some, “I will pray for you” has become Christianese for “I’m not willing to help you, maybe God will.” I know that sounds like a harsh judgment, but I am only a man, and I was designed by God to be a protector. I have read the Book and it says that persecution is coming in the last days, and neither my prayer nor yours can save the victims of the coming storm prophesied in Scripture. I am not saying that God cannot rescue the oppressed Christians in Iraq, but that it is clear from God’s Word that persecution and murder will continue. So I ask myself, if I could save anyone, even just an individual person from being murdered, would that be a Godly thing to do?
Many Christians would say that Jesus didn’t call us to violent action. After all, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual principalities”. The implication is that prayerful petition to God is our spiritual path to defend the weak, but I’m just not feeling that prayer alone is what Jesus advocated. In His last days, the Lord recognized the coming dangers against His disciples and He advised them as recorded in Luke 23:36, “But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” The sword that Jesus recommended (Greek: maxairan) was a short sword that belonged to the Jewish traveler’s equipment as protection against robbers and wild animals. Not much is said about what use those early believers made of their swords, but I’m assuming Jesus advised what was both necessary and honorable. I also know from the Word that Jesus didn’t see physical rescue as being less valid than prayer. In the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus made the point that a real neighbor is one who helps tangibly, offering a hand to the victim. In Matthew 25 Jesus said, “They will say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of my people, you did not do for me.’”
Jesus makes it very clear that Christians are called to serve and protect. When protecting one’s family or even a defenseless stranger, a Christian is unselfishly risking his or her life for the sake of others. Apologists J. P. Moreland and Norman Geisler wrote that “to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil. To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable. In brief, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Any man who refuses to protect his wife and children against a violent intruder fails them morally.”
There was a time when Christians took up arms to defend the victims of oppression. H. G. Wells, not a Christian writer by any means, describes how the Medieval Crusades began when Pope Urban inspired thousands of common people to march without any formal leadership to defend Christians in the Holy Land who were being persecuted by Muslims. This in no way excuses the atrocities that also characterized the Crusades, but we must agree there was this noble aspect of defending the victims. Our more immediate ancestors who founded the United States took up arms for something as mundane as taxation without representation because the root of that issue was to protect their fellow citizens from oppressive rulers. In more recent times, our nation was united in defending the world’s people against Nazi socialism and then Soviet socialism. But today we seem inclined toward powerlessness and passivity. We are no longer, either nationally or individually, willing to act or take up arms. The application of force, even for a moral purpose, seems unthinkable to many.
In the case of oppressed Christians in the Middle East, we have allowed ourselves to get to a place where there is little we can do to aid them. Our government seems disinterested, and we ourselves do not have access to rescue them. Since the call for prayer went out, many defenseless men, women, and children have been killed. It’s frustrating that we can’t help them materially, and God must be grieved by the destruction of the innocent. Perhaps the best we can do is take to heart the example of defenseless Christians being murdered by ISIS and never allow ourselves to be in that position. Unity coupled with preparedness is our best strategy against earthly evil. I believe in supernatural protection, but I don’t disregard Jesus’ advice to buy a sword.