There is no question that attacks against personal security, whether as a result of persecution or as a result of particular environments, are a real part of our life in this world, although for some they are ‘more real’ than for others. They were not part of God’s original perfect creation, and they won’t be part of the perfect new creation, but they are unquestionably part of our existence now.
While much of the biblical material concerns persecution, we can also make some helpful reflections regarding a Christian response to ‘living in state of heightened security’. By way of starting a conversation on this topic, I’d like to offer the following comments.
i. Suffering is a normal part of life in our fallen world.
This may seem like a somewhat abstract and general thing to say, but I think it is an important thing to realise. Sometimes our response to threats or danger is surprise, or feeling that things are getting out of control. However, perhaps that suggests that we are experiencing, and therefore expecting, the norm of our life to be blessing and comfort, rather than curse and trial. I am not meaning to paint a picture of doom and gloom, but there is a strong element in the Bible of this world being a world under curse, and therefore we should expect bad things to happen.
ii. Suffering is something that God does not delight in.
Suffering and personal threat may be the reality of our life now, but that doesn’t mean that it is right, or that God somehow enjoys it or is satisfied with it. No, God despises evil, it is affront to his holy nature and his purpose for creation. He despises it so much he has provided a costly personal sacrifice for the purpose of the redemption of creation. We can look forward to the new creation because that is where God wants us to be, and he has made the way possible for us to be there.
iii. There are times when we ought to appeal to God for relief from threats.
It is right to call out to our heavenly Father in our distress. He loves to hear the prayers of his children. We are not to be people who suffer in silence. There is nothing ungodly or sub-Christian about asking for an end to violence or suffering.
iv. There are times when we need to have a big view of the world.
We need to call out in our distress, but we also need to have a big view of God’s plan for the world as we do that. Sometimes we need to remember that the ultimate goal is not our personal security or an end to the threat we are suffering. The ultimate goal is the glory of God and the declaration of his name. There are circumstances when this greater goal ‘trumps’ that of our personal distress. Great wisdom is required to know how that works out in different circumstances.
v. There is a time to stay and a time to go.
As we read the Bible, we have examples of people leaving ministry locations because of threats to their security, and people staying despite threats to their security. When do we stay and when do we go? It would be nice if there were an easy answer, but I think there is not. Again, this is a matter for great wisdom, careful counsel and prayerful discussion in fellowship.
vi. Security needs to be a consideration, but should it be a ‘deal-breaker’?
How do we consider matters of personal security when we are deciding on a ministry location? I think there are two extremes to that question, probably both of which are wrong.
One extreme is to say we will go anywhere, anytime, under any circumstance. The other is to say we will only go somewhere safe.
The first is wrong because it ignores complicated questions of responsibility to your family, co-workers and local Christians. That is not to say we should never go to dangerous places, but care and counsel must be taken.
The second is wrong because it ignores the reality of the world we live in. No matter how much we try, we cannot isolate ourselves from threat, and therefore to expect a guarantee of safety is an unrealistic goal.
vii. We need to talk to the locals, not rely on the media.
It is interesting to note that the times when Paul did leave a dangerous place, it was on the advice of the local people. We need to get in to the habit of listening to locals, not just relying on CNN. In the violent cities of the world, yes, there are threats and dangers, but there are also millions of people just getting on with the daily lives. You won’t see a headline story on that, because it is not news. One of the results of instant worldwide media access is that we can paint for ourselves an unrealistic picture of daily life. We need to be careful about that when gathering data to make decisions.
This is the end of this series of posts, but hopefully the beginning of the discussion. What do you think?