“…barbaric atrocities committed against Christian minorities”…”blood…splashed everywhere“…”Christian communities being brutalized and extinguished“…”Is there not a stage when violent reciprocation becomes the only effective alternative?”
These are the recent news reports and opinions about what is more and more frequently being called “the year of the Christian genocide.” One commentator writes that the situation “can only be compared to the first centuries when Christians were hunted down as criminals in the Roman Empire.”
Amidst warnings that the situation will worsen “unless world leaders take more concrete actions to safeguard the religious and human rights of people,” and amidst claims that Jesus’ teachings don’t mean what they sound like they mean or don’t apply in this case of large-scale barbarity, it’s worth asking:
How did God respond in that comparable situation of Christian genocide in the first centuries of the church’s existence?
He sent a book. Or, more accurately, he sent a revelation that was to be written up in a book–The Book of Revelation.
In that book, amidst scenes that could easily be drawn from the last few months, victims of religious violence cry out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Jesus does not respond by chiding government inaction or by limiting the applicability of his teachings to the interpersonal, non-geopolitical realm. Instead, he reveals.
And what he reveals above all else is that God is not only aware of what is happening but is in fact the one most intimately, compassionately, and victoriously involved on behalf of his children, no matter how bloodily bleak things may appear to the . Far from being passive or counseling passivity, he personally fights with the sword of his mouth, dispatches supernatural and natural forces, offers specific words of encouragement and correction for each local congregation, and generally calls the hearer to understand that what is at stake is too vast, too cosmic for mere geopolitical players to implement, let alone comprehend.
We give thanks to you,
Lord God Almighty,
who is and was,
for you have taken your great power
and enforced your rule.
Brandon O’Brien describes it in a passage that is worth quoting at length:
When the biblical writers call us to faith, they are calling us to reject this view of the world and, instead, foster an active imagination that can see what God sees. When the prophets looked around them, they too saw injustice, sin, and unrighteousness. The rational response to this sort of experience is despair. But the prophets called the people—and us—to hope. A constant refrain of the prophets is a summons to imagine a godly future. “The day is coming,” they said again and again, a day when injustice will be judged, when evil will be put right, when exploitation will cease, when God’s faithful people will experience the deliverance they have hoped for—hoped against experience. This is a radical message. It requires a godly imagination that can form “images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses,” an imagination shaped by the truth that God is a loving Creator who is deeply connected to his people and works tirelessly for their good. The prophets call us to share this vision, and they do so by painting landscapes of a world that contradicts our experience because it exists only in the mind of God until that “day” comes.
Jesus calls us to an even more demanding act of imagination. He stood in the line of the prophets, but he radicalized their message. “The day is coming,” they had said. He changed the tense. He says, “The day has come.” The world the prophets had envisioned is no longer a future reality. It is happening here and now. Jesus invites his followers to imagine that the kingdom of God is at hand, and with it have come all those promised reversals. If I may be so bold, it appears that the imagination was Jesus’ main target. With his parables about the kingdom of God, Jesus helps us peek behind the veil and see the truth beneath the appearances of our experience.
The name of our organization, VOM, stands for Voice of the Martyrs, not Victims of the Muslims. There is a reason for this. Christian martyrs are first and foremost witnesses not to their own suffering but rather to the revelation that the day has come–the kingdom of God is at hand. If those martyrs cry out How long?, it is always followed by the recognition that Christ is their Sovereign Lord, provision, and hope of salvation. He has not left them orphaned nor consigned their care or revenge to earthly suzerains.
As Rev. Darrell Johnson puts it in his incomparable commentary on the Book of Revelation, things are not as they seem (nor as the commentators and reporters describe it).
A setting that appears to call into question the fundamental truths of the gospel. Indeed, the setting appears to negate the truths of the gospel. “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.” Where? Where is the kingdom? “Jesus is Lord”–but where is the evidence? The church was having to operate behind closed doors. Immorality was gaining footholds in some of the congregations. John, the beloved pastor and bishop, is hauled off by the police into exile. Where is Jesus in all of this?
So in response to that first Christian genocide God sends a Bible book to reveal the answer, set the strategy, and call for obedience, discipleship, and patient endurance.
It is likely not the response that analysts, commentators, activists, or martyrs in the present “year of the Christian genocide” are looking for. A book? It hardly seems like a response at all.
Perhaps that’s what the book’s first recipients thought as well.