WHAT SHALL WE PREACH TO ORISSA?
Many people have heard about the violent attacks that have been carried out on poor Christians in Orissa, openly and blatantly by Hindu militant groups. Several churches have been destroyed, many houses and shops of Christians have been burned, a few Christians have been burned alive, some others beaten to death, and thousands of Christians have had to flee from their homes for safety in forests and distant places. Some sections of Christians have resorted to demonstrating protests, some have filed cases against the offenders, some have taken to raising their cries to the Lord on behalf of their brothers and sisters who have been affected by these attacks, and some have felt that retaliation in some form is what is called for. Certainly, while there is need to call for justice and to take steps to protect ourselves under such circumstances, there is no justification for tit-for-tat, revenge, taking the law into our own hands, 'teaching them a lesson,' etc. There is justice with God, and He is not blind to what is happening to His people. There will be retribution from God for offenders in this case, as well as for all other types of sinners. But vengeance belongs only to God (Rom.12:9) and we would be crossing our boundaries if we ventured into such areas. On the other hand, what message can we give to our brothers and sisters in Orissa at this particular juncture?
God Takes Care
We (meaning Christians as a whole) have preached about how God takes care of His people as the apple of His eyes, how not one hair shall fall from our heads without His permission, how He camps around us as a wall of fire, etc. But now these people have been getting killed in extremely cruel ways, driven out of their homes, deprived of their meagre livelihood, rendered without food or shelter, and they now sit in fear, not knowing what comes next. How do they now feel about the promises of God and the hope they have had in being Christians? A few have given up on being called Christians, and many have been forced to recant. In such a context, what message of hope and encouragement can we give to the Christians in that place?
Think of Zacharias and Elizabeth who received a promise through the angel Gabriel that their son would be great in the sight of the Lord, turning many people to God and preparing a way for the Lord, when they saw their son getting beheaded at the age of thirty! Think of Mary who received a promise about a Son who would reign for ever when she watched Him suffer and get killed at the hands of the Romans! Would not their hearts have got torn with confusion and perplexity in relation to God in addition to their sorrow over their personal loss?
Then we have the Early Church starting triumphantly from the resurrection of Jesus and stories of His miracles of healing and raising people from the dead, coming face to face with cruel torture and death in large numbers. Would not doubts, questions and fears have clouded their minds and hearts at that time? What message would the apostles have given to them at that time?
The message we wish we could give would be that God would come riding on the clouds and destroy the enemies and show forth His power and might in making a distinction between His people and others. We have no doubt that He can do it, but we see that in His sovereign wisdom and as a part of His great plan, He has not done that in this case or is not doing that yet.
This is a time when just messages are not enough. Our messages should be backed by a demonstration of our genuine concern which could be in different forms such as prayer, fellowship and practical support of various types. They need to know that we are with them. It is only when they are sure of this that they would be really willing to receive any message from us.
Our message could be: "You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance" (Psa. 66:12).
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:10-12).
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Jas. 1:2-4).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls" (1Pet. 1:3-9).
"For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (1Pet. 3:17,18).
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name" (1Pet. 4:12-15).
"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (Jn. 14:1-3).