I want you to pause for a moment, and reflect on how you reacted the last time you heard a joke about Christ or Christians. Did you smile? Maybe you even chuckled. Or, maybe you found it inappropriate, even offensive. Did you react violently against the person, or people, telling the joke? Did you threaten to sue anyone who would dare attempt to offend you or your faith?
Over the last few months, I have been following the developments in the Middle East, and around the world, concerning the Islamic outpouring of violence.
In Israel, except for a five-month hiatus from March until August of 2004, suicide bombers and angry mobs have been a constant problem, particularly since September 2000. Pulling out of the territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and giving Palestine more and more autonomy has not seemed to help dissipate the violence. And now, with the terrorist group Hamas in control of the Palestinian parliament, the prospects for the cessation of violence could not seem dimmer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Hamas leaders to Moscow. "We must respect the choice of the Palestinian people," Putin said during a visit to Spain. "We haven't considered Hamas a terrorist organization. Today we must recognize that Hamas has reached power in Palestine as a result of legitimate elections." This is especially incredible when you consider the Russian president's approach to the Muslim terrorists of Chechnya.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chechen-Ingush Soviet Autonomous Region was divided when Ingushetia voted to form its own autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. General Dzhokhar Dudayev seized power in the capital Grozny, and led Chechnya's drive for independence. The president of the newly formed Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, for whatever reason, refused Chechnya's declaration of independence, sending in troops instead, only to withdraw when confronted by armed Chechens.
Tensions escalated into a war which lasted from late-1994 until 1996, ending with Russia's withdrawal. Chechen terrorism has been a problem throughout Putin's presidency, the worst of which was the attack at a school in early September 2004, which left 344 dead, 186 of them children, and hundreds more wounded. It would seem that he would "feel Israel's pain," but he does not appear to do so.
In late 2005, France experience its own uprising, or, as the Egyptian daily Al-Massaie called the riots that spread across the European country: "the intifada of the poor." The state of emergency, which the French government imposed in November, was finally lifted in January 2006. During the 20 nights of riots, 8,973 cars were burnt and 2,888 arrests were made. The violence has been quelled, but the French are still uneasy.
A couple of weeks later, violence flared in Australia between whites and those of Arab or Middle Eastern descent.
Meanwhile, Iran is seeking to obtain nuclear power, a premise that does not bode well for the region, or for the world. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is looking for the Muslim messiah - the Mahdi - to come very soon, and he feels it to be his calling to bring about the coming of this twelfth Shia Imam. The Iranian leader's fanaticism, terrorist background, and rejection of Israel's right to exist, coupled with nuclear capabilities, is a thought too scary to ponder.
The recent reaction in the Muslim world to the caricatures of Mohammed printed in September in a Danish newspaper, has really emphasized the difference between Islam and the religion of Jesus Christ.
After the cartoons were reprinted earlier this year by publications in Norway, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the Muslims decided to retaliate. Thousands of protestors attacked European embassies and individuals in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Jordan. Other demonstrations and rallies were held in Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, as well as various Western countries, including Great Britain and the United States. All this fuss over a few cartoons?
I am reminded of an editorial cartoon I saw last year, where Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, was depicted as an ugly parrot, unfairly characterizing her as nothing but a puppet of the Bush administration. The cartoon was disrespectful and insulting, but I heard no complaint from the administration, or from Secretary Rice. They simply took it in stride. As they say, "Sticks and stones..."
Over the years, Christianity in general, and many Christian personalities in particular, have been impugned by way of editorial artists. Sometimes it may be in good, clean fun, other times it may be malicious, but isn't that what Christ told us to expect?
Jesus said, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).
This past January, in the Springfield (Mass.) suburb of East Longmeadow, Parthina Wanzo, who had converted to Islam nine months prior, wore her Muslim head covering to the nursing facility where she worked. When she came out to her car for morning break, she found it to have been vandalized. The rear tires were slashed and the side door had profanities scratched into it. While I listened to the outpouring of outrage from Muslim leaders in our community, I could not help but think that, had it been a Christian who had been the target of religious persecution, the Christian reaction would have been very similar.
Then I thought of my own car, which bears Scripture references and the words, "Cars are a sign of the soon coming of Jesus." I realize that my open profession of my beliefs makes me a target. What if it was my vehicle? How would I react? More importantly, how does God want us to react?
Persecution and lack of tolerance against true believers is a foregone conclusion. Jesus warned us of it, and told us how to deal with it. He showed that born-again believers are to react differently than those who remain in the world.
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" (Matt. 5:38-42).
We are called to be different. We are called to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." Obviously the Jesus of the Bible is very different from 's (): the "Jesus" of the Qur'an.
In his epistle, Peter agrees with Paul and Jesus, "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Peter 2:19-24).
Today, we see Islam in the news every day, and the anti-Muslim sentiment in the world is very strong as a result. But the word of God tells us that we, too, shall suffer persecution: especially if we live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12).
When you are buffeted for your faith, take heed to your reaction. Know what spirit you are of, ensuring that your mouth does not cause your flesh to sin (Eccl. 5:6).
It would be better if we could follow the early disciples example, who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. Vengeance belongs to God and He will repay.
Trust in Him, and do His good will, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.Next Article - Visiting the Saints in India