Bleak headlines scar the news of the world.
Christians suffer brutalization in Iraq. The stories emanating from the new so-called “Caliphate” under radical Islamists horrify to the point of near-inconceivability, but they are real.
Then there are places like Iran, northern Nigeria, and North Korea, to name just a few places where Christians experience every manner of suffering for their faith.
As a representative (but not the worst) example, consider what’s happening in China: According to Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom:
From repressing Muslims to bulldozing churches and tearing down crosses, Chinese officials have been denying the internationally guaranteed right to believe or not believe … Catholic and Protestant groups refusing to register with the government face arrests, fines and the shuttering of their churches. China’s government has issued a chilling directive to “eradicate” unregistered Protestant churches over the next decade. In January and March, officials seized 20 members, including the pastor, of the Holy Love Fellowship, an unregistered home church in Beijing, detaining them in space set aside for violent criminals. Since January, China’s Christians have confronted an ominous new threat to worship and practice — governmental targeting of registered churches and their leaders.
Starvation, malnutrition, dehydration, and preventable disease remain rampant in the developing world, almost never due to a lack of resources, but because of predatory governments that either deny their people resources or refuse to develop workable economies, ethnic violence, and poor distribution systems. So, according to the World Food Programme, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45 percent) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.”
South Sudan is “pushed to the brink by war and hunger.” In Israel and Gaza, the missiles have been flying and killing; in Ukraine, they rain down as well.
Here at home, abortion, divorce, same-sex “marriage,” pornography, human trafficking, sexually-transmitted diseases, fatherlessness, abridgements of religious liberty (including in the military), myriad types of substance abuse, failing schools, an ever-expanding federal government, and a weak job market combine into a powerful social chisel, steadily chipping away at the walls of a healthy culture and ordered liberty.
Many American Christians are feeling oppressed by these horrors, by the daily digest of human pain that composes much of the record of our time. Caring as they do about advancing the Gospel, about the suffering of many, and about the crumbling culture, followers of Jesus can find themselves all but immobilized by the sheer quantity of evil. It’s understandable that some want to hunker down in their pews and not think too far beyond the walls of their churches, homes, and neighborhoods.
Understandable, but unacceptable. Allowing ourselves to be captivated by the squalidness of our time is to abandon our hope in the God of the Bible. It’s a matter of faith to affirm that His ways our not our ways and His thoughts are not ours, as the Lord told Isaiah. But not a blind faith: It’s grounded in the truth of the historic Person Jesus of Nazareth, God in the flesh, risen Savior, coming King.
Additionally, we must never turn a blind eye to His remarkable work throughout the world, including our own country.
Thankfully, God’s people are doing much good. Christians in the United States give sacrificially, financially and in personal effort, to help those in need, both born and unborn. Generously enough? Perhaps not. But chronically to denigrate Evangelical efforts as inadequate is mere grousing substituting as analysis.
Consider such organizations as the Accord Network, a consortium of more than 60 Christian relief and development organizations with combined resources of over $4 billion. Or visit the “ServantMatch” site maintained by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which provides links to hundreds of Christian ministries in more than 50 categories to enable Evangelicals better to target their time, talent, and treasure according to the burdens and opportunities God gives them. In the U.S. and in almost every country where they are allowed, Evangelicals are feeding the poor, providing clean water, adopting children, rescuing women from sexual slavery, and performing a host of other Christ-honoring ministries.
And in nations large and small, such indigenous ministries as India National Inland Mission, Bombay Teen Challenge, Africa New Life Ministries and literally thousands of others are sharing the good news about Jesus and providing tangible help in His Name to untold numbers of people.
The Gospel is going forth: Across the world, churches and para-church organizations and missions and ministries small and large are reaching the unreached, challenging the complacent with the claims of Christ, and touching lives in some of the world’s darkest places.
For example, as of May 2012, Open Doors “estimates that at least 450,000 Christians live in Iran. Of this estimate, about 370,000 are ‘new’ Christians from a Muslim background”
In China, despite ongoing repression of Christian faith, Christianity is burgeoning. According to Prof. Fenggang Yang, a Purdue University sociologist, “China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon.” He estimates that there will be up to 160 million professing Christians in China by 2025.
More than any of these encouraging stories, Christians rest in the immovable truth that our Triune God controls time and eternity and, in His awesome and mysterious way, is using the palate of our lives and all history to create the masterpiece of history, His making of all things new.
Christians should never diminish the reality of suffering nor neglect their obligation to alleviate it. Christians should also never jettison their confidence that Jesus Christ is Lord, now and always, and that in Him they can rest in the enduring hope of His victory over all sin, in His time and in His way, and the joy that this hope brings.
“In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer,” said Jesus. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Either He lied or this is true. Christians bank on the latter. Let’s keep doing so.
Publication date: August 15, 2014