Sunday, August 22, 2021

What Hope is There for Afghanistan's Christians?

Afghanistan has suddenly become an extremely dangerous place for everyone, but especially for the small number of believers there. Reliable sources report the Taliban demanding mobile phones and if they find a Bible or Christian content on it, the person is killed immediately. One Christian has had his 14-year-old daughter ripped from his arms and taken into forced “marriage”. The Taliban have raided the home of a church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature. Another leader received a letter from them, “We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.” By the time the Taliban were at his door, he had gone into hiding. It was already a brutal place where it is impossible to live openly as a Christian and where conversion has been punished with death or being certified insane. According to Open Doors, the only place more dangerous for a Christian is North Korea. “How we survive daily only God knows. He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us,” one Christian has said. Facing chaos, repression, disease, violence, food shortages as well as persecution, what hope is there for Afghan believers? Scripture does in fact take account all of these terrible experiences and guarantees them strength and hope. It should inform our prayers for them.

The apostle Paul takes a fully realistic view of such a condition. He gives a list of some of the most extreme sufferings that believers have faced and will face in Romans 8:35. John Brown of Wamphray  (1610-1679) explains them. Tribulation means all the affliction which is likely to oppress and break a person (John 16:33). Distress means being so hemmed in and crushed as to suffer pain and being so surrounded that in their anxiety they do not know where to turn. Persecution is the tyrannical violence that drives people from the land of their nativity and forces to wander in unfamiliar places. Famine is the extreme and intolerable scarcity of all the necessities of this life. Nakedness is shame and disgrace as well as such extreme poverty that they can scarcely be clothed. Peril is having their life in jeopardy and being in fear of danger. Sword means any kind of violent death. This is often the experience of believers as the quotation from Psalm 44:22 shows.

This describes exactly the current experience of Afghan believers. Yet no matter how grievous such calamities are to flesh and blood and how hard to endure, Paul says they cannot separate them from the love of God. Indeed, he says that in all these they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them. They are not overcome but overcoming. John Brown goes on to apply the passage further in the following updated extract.


Believers are conscious of their own weakness and inability to endure storms. They are often afraid that sore and sad calamities will make them turn their back on Christ. So they dread such sharp afflictions and why it is God’s will in His wise providence that they experience them. It is for this reason that the apostle strengthens believers and says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (verse 35).


They are not exempt from various sorts of hardships in a world in which Christ suffered (verse 34). The afflictions that believers may expect to meet with in a world are not light in themselves but so sharp that they will be squeezed (so to speak) as in a wine press. They will meet with tribulation and be painfully pressed in and crushed. They will not only have outward afflictions pressing them but at the same time may expect to have their spirits so hemmed in on all sides that they can see no possible way of escaping. They are in danger of concluding themselves to be dead and gone (1 Samuel 20:3) and so surrounded with trouble as not to know to where to turn (2 Samuel 24:14). They may be filled with anguish and vexation of spirit in their distress.


The wicked are so enraged and embittered against the godly that if they have any power they will not permit them to live in peace and quietness. They will use force and violence against them and believers may expect no less than open persecution if the Lord does not restrain. If the Lord sees fit, they may have to leave their home and wander in deserts, mountains, caves and dens of the earth (Hebrews 11:38). Persecution is such a possibility that is good for us not to look on this world as our home but rather as the place of our exile. Our portion is not in this present world so we need not expect much of it. They may even experience famine

The persecutors of the godly are so savage and cruel that sometimes they will not only banish them in deserts where they shall have no livelihood but also strip them naked and expose them to the injuries of wind and weather. They may experience nakedness, or they may be exposed to shame and scorn.

Their life may be so hard in this world that they hardly know what peace means and may be daily in danger of their lives and so spend much of their time in jeopardy. They may be in peril (see 2 Corinthians 11:26). Besides such dangers and perils, they may even experience the worst that men can do. Such will be satisfied with no less than the death and utter destruction of the people of God. But this is the utmost that persecutors can achieve (Matthew 10:28).


No matter how sorrowful the experiences of believers, none of them cloud the beams of Christ’s love nor evidence lack of love towards them. They will not separate us from the love of Christ. When believers view Christ in His incarnation and exaltation doing all for poor unworthy sinners they see unspeakable love in every aspect of it towards them that nothing can quench. This will so encourage the believer that they will be able to endure the worst of storms and not be shaken or dismayed. The apostle triumphs and cries out: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ etc” in response to his believing considerations of Christ dying and rising again.


Believers may be assured that they have reason to expect a hard lot in this world when they consider God’s children in former generations. It will help greatly to allay their sorrow when they consider that their case is not unique. The apostle proves it by quoting from the Psalms where the church and people of God are shown in a condition as bad if not worse (verse 36). It is no strange thing to see the followers of Christ persecuted and abused by wicked men. It has been the lot of the church of God in all ages from the beginning to wade through a sea of tribulation, She has often been persecuted even to the death. The followers of Christ must be resolved to die and not save their lives when Christ calls on them to lose them for His sake. The malice of the church’s enemies is not soon at an end. It is lasting and growing rather than decaying and will continue to do so long as there any of the seed the serpent are to the fore.


All the children of God ought to have such sympathy for each other that whenever some of them are suffering under the feet of persecutors it should go to the heart of all. Being members of one body if one part is wounded, all should grieve and feel it. They should sympathize as fellow sufferers and so weep with them that weep (Romans 12:16). They should remember those in bonds as bound with them and them that suffer adversity as also in the body (Hebrews 13:2).


The wicked have no cause against the godly except that they sincerely serve their Lord and adhere to His worship. Yet this is enough on which to base their malice and persecution. The wicked in their rage against the godly value their lives no more lives than if they sheep appointed for slaughter (see 1 Corinthians 4:13).


Though Satan in raising persecution and tribulation against the godly seeks to shake them loose from Christ the bond shall still hold fast. When the wicked have done their worst to them and their lives believers victorious and are as close to Christ as they can be when taken up to glory. In affliction of any sort they are glorious conquerors – in all things they are more than conquerors (verse 37). This strength and stability of the children of God is not from any strength in themselves but only from Christ their head and husband. They are more than conquerors “through him” (verse 37). Their victory does not come from themselves but only from the love, free grace and good will of Christ. Our hearts should be warm with love towards Him and stirred up to thankfulness. This is why Paul says “through him that loved us” (verse 37).


We should have a fellow feeling with those who suffer for Christ’s sake and remember them (Hebrews 13:3). How earnest in prayer we ought to be for them. One believer who has already spent time imprisoned for his faith in Afghanistan says, “We can trust that our Lord is mighty and will care for his children”, “our hope is not in politics but in Jesus who is the King.” Scripture gives them promises in their extremity and Christ gives the strength, grace and assurance of His love not only to endure but to be more than conquerors through Him. There is therefore the brightest spiritual hope for Afghan believers despite the worst circumstances.