The Middle East has been called the birthplace of civilization, the center of conflict and the graveyard of empires. From the time of Alexander the Great to Napoleon to today, great individuals and nations have found themselves entangled in conflict in the Middle East.
When Winston Churchill and other world leaders created new settlements in the Middle East in the wake of World War I, including the very creation of the nation of Iraq, few could have imagined this place would continue to be such a hotbed of conflict to the degree we are seeing today.
News reports now tell of new terrorist atrocities toward Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities. So extreme was the situation that President Obama, an outspoken critic of the military operation in Iraq under President George W. Bush, ordered military action to protect the refugees. Agree or disagree with this action, Christians ought to unite in prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those facing persecution and savage mistreatment in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Christians experiencing affliction among Muslim countries, however, is nothing new. From the first decades following Muhammad’s conquests, Christians have been at odds with this other world religion. The Jewish people, too, have conflicted much with Islam.
It is important during events like the killings in Iraq, however, not to equate all Muslims with the actions of the terrorists. At the same time, Muslims who consider themselves of good will must speak out against such atrocities and show that these have no part in our world, fallen as it is.
It is not only at the hands of extreme terrorists who claim Muslim beliefs that Christians have suffered. Since the very beginning of the church, Christ’s followers have suffered intense persecution. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is a worthy read for anyone wanting to share in the “fellowship of sufferings” of God’s people.
This recent outbreak is a stark reminder that, until Christ returns, conflict and persecution are sure to come. After all, the Apostle Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12), while the Lord Jesus Himself said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
This savage persecution is also a reminder of how good we have it in America. Yes, we may be mocked and laughed at by Hollywood and Primetime TV. True, we are less likely to be voted into public office because of our unpopular beliefs. Indeed, Christians may be entering a time of scrutiny and disfavor that would have surprised our Founding Fathers. But, for the most part, we live in peace and suffer in far less tangible ways.
Our prayers, therefore, turn to our brothers and sisters suffering for the Faith around the world, including places such as Iraq. Isn’t it interesting that in Bible times, God’s people were suffering in exile in Babylon, which is the geographical equivalent of modern-day Iraq, and the Lord provided a word of hope? He said, “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).
To that end, we pray for peace in the war-torn lands of Iraq and the Middle East. God help them.