They are at war, aren’t they? Not ISIS and the West – that, too. But it’s our emotions that are duking it out right now here at home. Compassion vs. caution. Assurance vs. apprehension. The strident cries of the politicians vs. the silent commands of Scripture.
We’ve read enough commentaries and op-ed columns. Let’s listen instead to the quiet voices of a young family in the Middle East. I cannot tell you their names, their locale or why they are there. But I can tell you that I know them, I love them dearly, and I listen carefully when they speak. Their letter came this week, and I share an edited version here with their permission.
“Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
“That’s the first verse I thought of after hearing about the awful terrorist attacks in Paris. In our world of instant social media and 24-hour TV news cycles, it’s easy to be afraid and make decisions based on fear. Terrorism is spreading so fast and so far. Is America next, we wonder? Are we all going to be taken over by Islam? How is God using these events and this evil that feels so out of control?
“We are grateful God never allows us to stay in a place of fear. We have been frightened by ISIS like everyone else, but we are thankful for the Spirit’s voice whispering to us, ‘Fear not. I am with you. We are grateful that we have the choice to absorb the news, read Scripture and pray, and then move on.
“We are thankful for the privilege of being here in the Middle East with the Arab people. We wish you could meet these beautiful people and know experientially that the terrorists you see on the news are not normal—that they have become more beast than man—and that the vast majority of Arabs are the most hospitable and kind people we have ever met.
“We wish you could come visit our neighbors and get showered with food and tea and kindness. We wish you could see the strangers on the street who give our son juice or fruit or chocolate, just because they love kids. We wish you could come to church with us on Thursday nights and be surrounded by hundreds of Arabs who have been persecuted but continue to worship the risen Christ. Maybe then you wouldn’t be afraid.
“This is how we see it: The world is engaged is a spiritual battle of enormous proportions; it is changing and may be less safe than before. The attacks in Paris were a carefully timed plot of Satan. Just a month ago, the West decided to accept thousands of Syrian refugees. Churches were ready to love their neighbors as themselves, in spite of their darker skin, their (sometimes-angry-and-scary-sounding) language, their head-scarfed women. I felt proud of the Western church last month.
“And now, with these attacks, everyone is afraid. Afraid to accept them, afraid to love them with Jesus’ love. Listen: FEAR IS EXACTLY WHERE SATAN WANTS US. Please don’t give in to fear. Fear cripples. Fear prevents us from obedience. Fear stops us from loving our neighbors who don’t care about God. Fear does not easily accept change and makes our churches ingrown and insular—and these are all things Satan wants, because if we are afraid, we stop following Christ where he wants us to go.
“I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” Jesus says (Matthew 28:20). “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“Last night we were laying in bed and we thought of the gospel and of our Savior (who, ironically, was a Middle Eastern refugee). We thought of Jesus the night before he died. As he prayed in Gethsemane, he was probably afraid. He knew what was coming. Things felt out of control. Evil seemed like it was winning. But Jesus didn’t run away from the evil. He could have gone east over the Mount of Olives and escaped into the wilderness. But he turned towards Jerusalem and allowed the evil to take him.
“This was our salvation. God used the most evil of events—the crucifixion and death of His Son—for our salvation. Satan was trumped. His most insidious plan was turned upside down. And let’s just say it because it’s good to say: Satan is vanquished and Jesus is king!
Can we not trust that God will do something similar through the events we see today? That He will bring good out of this evil? God “determined the times set for [all people] and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27).
“Could it be that God is going to purify his bride through these things, even through persecution?
“Could it be that he is going to expose the truth of Islam to millions and bring in the greatest harvest ever because of these events?
“Oh Lord, may it be. And may we be found worthy when you come!”
Edwin Long’s depiction of The Flight of The Holy Family into Egypt