What does the Bible say about ISIS?

First and foremost, nothing in this blog or in anything else I say is intended to lessen or excuse the acts of terror which have been wrought by ISIS.  They are evil.  They are evil of the highest order.  But how should Christians view them?  For that, I’d like to turn to Jonah.  I’ve recently been translating the book of Jonah.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a few verses of that translation at a time with some detailed explanation of my translation decisions.  Hopefully this will help substantiate some of the claims I’m about to make.  Here is a link to the next post explaining translations a bit.  Here is a link to the first installment of my translation.

Jonah was called to prophecy to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, because their evil had risen up to God (Jonah 1:2).  Here are some of the things we know about the Assyrians.  They were evil.  They were evil of the highest order.  Nothing could excuse their actions.  This is helpful when we consider Jonah’s response to God’s call: he literally goes to the other side of the known world (Jonah 1:3).  He needs to head from Israel to what is now northern Iraq.  Instead, he goes to Spain.  Yeah, that’s a bit of a detour.  That’s the kind of response that was elicited by God telling him to go to Nineveh.

For a tangible example, let’s look at the Balawat Gates.  These imposing gates are intimidating enough on their own.  But let’s look at the bands that hold them together.  Basically, the Assyrians wanted to send a message, but the size of their gates wasn’t enough.  So they decorated those gates with artistic renderings of their cruelty.  They wanted visitors to know how they did business.  This included all manner of dismemberments, executions and tortures.

Balawat Gates

©Trustees of the British Museum

Notice the person being torn apart beside a person being impaled, beside ten severed heads that are used as decoration.  That’s how Assyrians decorated their gates.  So it shouldn’t be hard to understand why Jonah was a little reticent about approaching them.

But actually…that isn’t why he avoided them.  They are perhaps the most despicable people on the entire planet, and he doesn’t seem to be afraid of them.  He’s afraid of something else entirely.  He’s afraid that God will forgive them.

O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.

Jonah 4:2   ESV

This is the prophet of God.  He’s the one God chose to reach out to the most despicable people you could possible imagine.  In spite of this, Jonah manages to be more evil than any other character in the book that bears his name.  Why did he go to the other side of the world?  To prevent forgiveness. I know for many of us, that might contradict our long-held Sunday School versions of Jonah.  I’m sorry to break your bubble.  Jonah was not the hero of the book.*  He’s not even a supporting character.  If anything, he’s the villain.  He wants to keep God’s grace for himself and his fellow Israelites.

 

If this is challenging for you, it should be.  We are all very much like Jonah.  We like grace when we are the recipients.  But when someone else does something wrong…we want to see them pay.  We revile them and we accuse them and we ask God why his justice is taking so long.  I believe that God is just.  I believe that he does punish wickedness.  More accurately, I believe he has punished it at the cross.  It’s noteworthy that scripture records a figure who seems focused on reminding God of other peoples sins.  That’s Satan.  He’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10).

 

I agree with you that ISIS is evil.  From a civil standpoint, I hope that governments do one of the things for which they were designed: punishing evil (Romans 13:1-4).  But as a Christian, I hope and pray that those who harbor evil in their heart will turn to see Jesus.  I pray that we take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez 18:23, 33:11).  I pray that the accusation against them will be rendered null and void by the cross.  I pray that God continues to turn religious extremists like Paul into zealous evangelists of grace.

 

Perhaps most importantly, I pray that my prayers are sincere.  Because at the end of the day, I’m still Jonah.  I still hurt when I think of all the innocent lives that have been cut short.  I still want to run to the other side of the world, away from every drop of evil on the planet.  I still get angry and wish I could do something about it.  I understand why Jonah didn’t want the Assyrians to be forgiven.  And I agree with him.  I don’t want evil people to receive grace.  I still yell at God and ask him when he’s going to step in and deal with all those horrible people.  Then he reminds me of the cross.  He reminds me that he already stepped in, and he did so even while WE were all incredibly evil (Romans 5:8).

 

What does the Bible say about ISIS?  That God loves them.  He loves them just as much as he loves you.  He wants to reconcile with them just as much as he wants to reconcile with you.  Don’t for a minute think that you deserve something that they don’t.  Don’t let yourself hate them.  Don’t let yourself accuse them.  That’s not the gospel.  That’s not the Bible.  That’s Satan.  Satan is an idiot.  Don’t be like Satan (or Jonah).

18 thoughts on “What does the Bible say about ISIS?

  1. Reblogged this on Sincerely Megan and commented:
    Beautifully put. I’ve often wondered over the last two years, as I reflect on the items in the news, and have been confused as to what my response should be. I’m challenged as I think about Jonah, and how he faced the terror in his life. And now I look to God in light of this article to see how I should face terror in this present day.

    God made this day, and his mercies are new every morning.
    Amen.

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  2. Very well said. I’ve sat through many sermons over the years with preachers taking potshots at Jonah for running away instead of obeying his calling. I’ve drawn the same comparison you have. Replace “Assyrian” with “ISIS” and then tell me how anxious YOU would be to go preach repentance! I’ll be the first to confess I’m a lot like Jonah. You’re right. We all are.

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    • Same here. Jonah is one of the least understood books in the Bible. There’s a commentary in the library of the school where I teach that says, “Jonah is the hero of the book.” Uh…which book? Because he certainly isn’t the hero of the one I read. Jonah might be the most convicting book in the Bible for me. By the end of it, I’m simultaneously thinking, “He’s such an idiot!” and “…so am I.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting read, Ryan, and convicting all the same. I’m compelled to dive into Jonah myself, too, but also looking forward to reading more of this!

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  4. Pingback: Translators are Traitors | Home-cooked Jesus

  5. This comparison is of Assyrian and ISIS may have similarity in terms of geography and culture. But the evil today has evolved. They leverage on good social media and this has become a business for newsmakers, countries who sell weapons, smugglers and opportunity for jail breakers. The business owners who benefited from cheap oil sold by ISIS are buying them due to better profit. The ideal way to do what like what Jonah did is we send if we could, an evangelist in the middle of war zone and deliver God’s salvation. But we must realize that it is no longer necessary, why? There are already Christian preachers in that country preaching discretely to win one-by-one as many as they could. But where are they now? If not DEAD at the gun point, beheaded and tortured.

    I could not disagree that we will pray for sinners and criminals. But when an extremist is in the act of waging his riffle, whose finger is stuck in the trigger – they have to be stopped and dismantled. It is obvious that all forms of warning has been communicated to ISIS to stop this barbaric killings. Or can someone send a parachute which is loaded of leaflets telling about the Salvation of Christ and pray that they read it before killing innocent people? Maybe we can, but could even flame the rage of ISIS as they don’t respect Christ himself. Yes, the best we can is to pray. But someone has to do something if not totally stop them at least save as many as we could and take them away from ISIS.

    I believe if there’s one thing Christians can do, is to save refugees as many as we could and endoctrinate them in the salvation of Christ. But for those armed men and suicide bombers attacking innocent civilians, BOMBS away!

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    • I respect your opinion, but I disagree. I’m not advocating we change our posture towards ISIS for their benefit, at least that isn’t the immediate goal. The immediate goal is to remove hatred from our own hearts. Perhaps you don’t hate them. I can’t stand in judgment of that. But I can tell you that I regularly struggle with that. When 9/11 occurred my initial response was that we should make a parking lot of Afghanistan. We should show everyone what happens when you mess with us. But that isn’t the Christian response. That isn’t what Jesus did, and it isn’t what Jesus would call us to as Christians.

      There’s another issue latent within this that I think it worth pointing out. When I say these things I often hear in response that God calls us to certain things as Christians, but the government has different responsibilities. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. My point isn’t that American needs to turn the other cheek and love ISIS. My point is that Christians should.

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  6. I understand where Lastman is coming from, and your response, Ryan, is correct. We as individual citizens (for me, in Canada) are responsible for only our heart, our response. As for going overseas to evangelize those who need Jesus, God arranged a way for us to meet Jesus one-on-one. I can’t go to Syria-Belgium-France-Afghanistan… so God is bringing the people here – here where I CAN meet them, talk to them, show them Christ’s love and grace.

    Ryan, the Lord’s been convicting me along these same grounds. I have been filled with (dare I say it?) hate for the evil of ISIS, and it’s spilled over to the overwhelming images of refugees, along with the negative press. What the Lord showed me to do was to imagine – imagine one Muslim refugee, one ISIS fighter, and what I might do if I was in a position to help that one person, not in danger from them, but able to help. As I imagined such a scenario I could feel my heart resting, softening. It’s an exercise that, for me, is working. May God continue to work in my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s certainly a difficult process, but I’m encouraged by what you’ve shared. I think our natural response *is* hate. ISIS *is* evil. It’s natural to hate evil. But that doesn’t mean hating the members of ISIS is right. Natural doesn’t always equate to correct.

      I think you made a really good point. Focus on one person. It’s easier to hate a faceless group. But an individual? That’s much harder (at least most of the time).

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  7. Pingback: Jonah 1:1-3 | Home-cooked Jesus

  8. Pls. Do not compare Assyrians to ISIS !!!
    Assyrian fought to protect themselves just like any other Nation at that time, if they hadn’t done that , other nations who were very much less civilized would have done it to them. That is how everyone lived at that time, there was no UN ,no Geneve convention to protect the land, the rights of others.
    Today’s ISIS wants to implement their own evil ideology on the rest of the World , with the blessing of the West government and Israel/ Zionism ( ISIS serving their own political agenda in ME )
    STOP comparing a great civilization to ISIS.

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    • You are certainly welcome to your opinion on the matter. However, one only needs to view artwork from the period to see that Nineveh was not a pleasant, peaceful “great civilization.” Like I said in the post, they decorated their gates with artistic renderings of cruelty. Contrary to your statements, this is not how everyone lived at the time.

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  9. Pingback: Jonah 2:1-10 | Home-cooked Jesus

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