I would like to share with you a question that I received during an interaction I had with someone in discussing Genesis. The question is below in italics and it is a tough question because it is something that we all struggle with at one time or another. It leads us to wonder, which can then lead to doubt. In those times of doubt where we doubt God, His existence, His goodness, or any of His attributes/characteristics, there are a couple of options that we can take.
We can go the route that satan would have us take and not trust in God or doubt Him in some way. It can shake our faith and give him a foot in the door. Even possibly to the point that a Christian would turn their back on the Triune God. Or that doubt can lead us to seeking answers. Or, we can take that doubt or those questions and seek out God to learn more. Many times in my own life, when doubt has arisen, it has caused a strengthening in my faith because I could look to the Bible or look to some type of “research” (that being theologians, pastors, etc.) that is based on Scripture and find answers. If I couldn’t find clear answers, I could at least have a more solid foundation than I had before or knew of a better way to defend myself against the attacks of the accuser.
There are many times that we must also surrender and say “I don’t know. I don’t have a clear answer, but I have faith in the Almighty.” In these times it is tough, real tough. There are things in this world that we just don’t or won’t understand. This question is one of them. The evils of this world and the horrible things that happen is a tough question that there will probably never be an adequate answer on this side of heaven.
Please note, I answer this question not as an authority and not as someone who claims to have all the answers or even know the answer. I come as someone who is seeking God, trusting Him, and believing in His perfect and infinite attributes and characteristics that make Him God. At the end of the day, I just have to say I don’t have a good answer. But, I trust in God and in His sovereignty. I know He has a plan that is far beyond what I can imagine and He can do great things through various circumstances. He does them every day!
Here is the question: How does a Christian decipher between hardships that are as a result of God’s ultimate plan, vs. hardships that are self-induced – either as a result of disobedience to God’s word or a consequent of bad / unwise choices or hardships which are as a result of external factors such as tyranny / dictatorship oppression or religious persecutions? How would you encourage Christians in places like Syria, Iraq, Nigeria or China facing extreme religious persecution to hold on to their faith?
I think at first glance I would recommend a believer examine their life to see if there was some sort of disobedience that could have resulted in the hardships. Obviously, we need to be careful here to not think in a legalistic way, much like Job’s friends did. Even looking in Genesis, we can look at someone like Abraham who did not trust God to protect himself when he lied about Sarah being his wife. In his sin, God still protected him and Sarah. Job’s misfortunes were not a result of anything he did or disobedience, it was a result of satanic attack upon him. So, I think we must examine our lives to see if we have acted in disobedience and honestly come before God to ask Him to show us the ways we have sinned or been disobedient and confess those sins.
On the other side, there are many of our Christian brothers and sisters who are being tortured and killed simply because of these external factors you mentioned. My encouragement to them would be that God placed them there for a reason and purpose. Maybe God has them there to help others that are oppressed to find Jesus. I would encourage them to persevere and endure and keep looking for ways to be used by God. It is not an easy situation and at any time someone could kill them because they proclaim Christ. It is not an easy situation by any means, but my hope would be for them to hold on and cling to God. I feel He would strengthen them. I cannot imagine the horrors they have seen or the struggles they have or are going through. So my feeble attempt to help them is almost lost because I cannot imagine, understand or comprehend how tough things are that they are going through.
Also, the world is full of evil. People killing others for no reason. There is torture and things that happen that are so horrible that they are just unspeakable. This post is not about that. It is not about what groups like ISIS do to Christians and people of other religions and areas. There are so many topics and ways that could be addressed about the persecution and torture of Christians and others that there is not enough space to address. Simply, there is no sense to evilness. It tries to destroy everything in its way. It will do everything it can to keep people from seeing God and His goodness. It is sad. We probably all know or have heard about those on the front lines who have been persecuted and tortured because of their beliefs. They have been beaten within an inch of their lives. Some will not leave because they feel that is where they are called to be. they feel they are called to make a difference in a very dark place. They are courageous and bold. They are strong. They are heroes.
What I and all of us can do is to remember the persecuted church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, every day in our prayers.