Death, good? Crucifixion, good? The Savior of the world tortured and hung on a cross to die, good? Followers deserting Him, God the Father forsaking Him, criminals dying on either side of Him, the Jewish leaders finally rid of Him, Satan smiling because of what he’s done to Him, a stone rolled in front of Him. Good?
“Before we can grasp the full meaning of the resurrection, we first have to witness the crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the risen Jesus.” The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken
We are slowly walking through the reality of the deadliest terror attack on Kenyan soil since the U.S. Embassy bombings in 1998 – it has not been easy. Praying, thinking, questioning, fearing…
Emotions are flashing back to the Westgate Mall attacks in the fall of 2013. Then again on December 2, 2014, while we were on home assignment in the States, we read these two headlines on the same day:
“Al-Shabab massacres non-Muslims at Kenya quarry”
“U.S. Teacher Killed 'With a Sharp Tool' in Abu Dhabi Shopping Mall”
In a matter of weeks, dear friends of ours were preparing to move to Abu Dhabi within days of us heading back to Kenya. I was in the middle of preparing for a Sunday School lesson on how our faith should speak into our fear, based on Hebrews 11:29-38. Suddenly, I was no longer presenting a theological concept for discussion; this was real life – too real.
What does it mean to trust God amidst headlines like that? How does my faith in God and His Sovereignty shape my response? What if I can’t depend on the (true or false) sense of security that living comfortably in the States provides or rely on responsible decision making to avoid risk? What if I feel completely naked, completely exposed, completely vulnerable, living in an area of the world where bad things happen and where some of those things are because of what I do or don’t believe.
So here we go again. 147 dead. Non-Muslims targeted. Al-Shabab at large, increasing the frequency of attacks. Wouldn’t it be easier to move back? Certainly it would be safer, right? Wouldn’t we feel more secure in the States? Surely God’s protection there is more legitimate, more guaranteed, more humane than the craziness that grabs headlines around here. Questions, tears, doubts, fear.
The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
Funny thing about being under siege – you’re stuck. The whole military strategy hinges on cutting off supply lines and eliminating the possibility of escape. Victims are completely isolated and it is only a matter of time before they die or surrender. Completely helpless and hopeless, they slowly waste away, limited only to the diminishing resources that remain in their stronghold.
God is your stronghold. Think about being stuck within the shadow of the Almighty! Diminishing resources? Try ABUNDANT! David had an intimate knowledge of persecution, being on the run, of people seeking to take his life. Psalm 27 wasn’t written in the hypothetical. He wrote, “though an army besiege me,” not, “If an army would ever besiege me.” It is when we are cut off from everything else, when we are the most vulnerable, when we are at our weakest point and all we can turn to is our Savior; only then are we truly strong!
Ironically, it’s the peripheral defenses, the false blockades and pathetic attempts at security that we mistakenly place our faith in; these, put up and maintained in our own strength, are what keep us from retreating sooner. They prevent us from finding refuge in our True Stronghold.
It is because of the events we celebrate this Easter weekend that we can stay, choosing to obey in spite of our fears. It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus, the terrible silence and the questioning and the doubts that followed, and then the indescribable joy when He arose, victorious over sin, death, and the grave. And it is because He is still in the business of raising men and women from the dead that we can walk by faith and lay our fears at His feet.
“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
Praise God, Jesus Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed.