The world’s attention has at last focused on the genocide happening in Iraq. Tragically, this story is not new. What is new is that the Islamic State (IS) has undertaken the brutal, systematic eradication of every group that does not adhere to its barbaric and quite literal interpretation of Islam. The murder, rape, starvation, and enslavement of Iraq’s minorities who have refused to convert to Islam is now making headlines in the mainstream media. Hopefully all the world now knows about the Yezidis of Iraq who have suffered these brutalities, many thousands of whom are only now finding refuge after being trapped on the Sinjar Mountains.
Yet the Yezidis are not alone in this suffering. The Christians of Iraq have undergone severe persecution since 2003. The estimated Christian population of Iraq in the 1990s was 1.2 million; today it is perhaps 300,000. Many have fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where they have found refuge. Many others have fled the region altogether, finding new lives as refugees. The plight of Iraq’s Christians prompted Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) to speak out recently, saying on the floor of Congress, “Christianity as we know it in Iraq is being wiped out.” His remarks highlighted the atrocities of the Islamic State against Christians in Mosul, indicting the United States and the West for silence on this matter. Congressman Wolf called on the church to speak out on behalf of Christians who have been persecuted in the extreme, not only in Iraq, but in Egypt, Africa, and elsewhere that Islamic extremists have taken control. He could also have mentioned Syria, where the Christian population has been literally under siege since the civil war in that nation began in 2011.
Congressman Wolf has taken a courageous step in speaking the truth, but I am not confident that it will produce any measurable results. And this brings us to a hard question: why is this happening to people who have a testimony of Jesus Christ (Messiah Yeshua)? I have been part of a prayer ministry that has prayed for Iraq and Iraq’s Christians for years, but things seem to be getting worse, not better. Why is that? Shouldn’t our all-powerful God be doing something about this?
Yes, God should be doing something about it, and He is. But what He is doing is something most people do not think an all-powerful, all-loving God should be doing. In fact, it is something most people do not want to think about at all. Consider these words of Scripture:
Thus he said: “The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.” (Daniel 7:23-25 NKJV, emphasis added)
Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time. (Daniel 11:32, 34-35 NKJV, emphasis added)
Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. (Revelation 11:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)
Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:1-8 NKJV, emphasis added)
I could add to these passages the words of Yeshua in Matthew 24, which commands us to flee when the Abomination of Desolation happens, and the words of John in Revelation 12, which show the people of God fleeing from the dragon (Satan). Why is this? Where is God’s victory?
Here is the unpleasant truth: certainly God wins in the end, but before that He allows Satan to have his day on earth. That means we, God’s people, get to lose. As Daniel says, we will do exploits, but we get persecuted and killed in the process. God has good reason for this. Let me list a few:
- To give evil full reign so He can be judged fully and eradicate it completely (Genesis 15:12-16; Psalm 37; Psalm 75; Psalm 94).
- To give the people of earth the thing they have been wanting for millennia: full control over their own fate, without God to intervene. In this way they learn the folly of that choice (Psalm 2; Romans 1:18-32; II Thessalonians 2:5-12; Revelation 9:20-21).
- To refine the Saints of God and make them the worthy Bride of Messiah (Matthew 5:1-12; Revelation 7:9-17).
In time we will return to the Land of Israel as conquerors with Messiah, but to do that we have to be made ready. That is why we get to have a wilderness experience, just like our ancestors who came out of Egypt, just like David as he fled before Saul, and just like Yeshua when the Lord allowed Him to be tested by the devil before His ministry. If He did not do this, if He gave us victory immediately, then we would go back to our own compromising ways and allow evil to grow again.
So what should we do about these distressing headlines? Keep praying, and keep asking the Lord what to do. Act as He gives us instruction, but always let Him change us inside, and always look up for the redemption He has promised.