By Eric Blauer
ISIS was not mentioned once in 61 Democratic National Convention speeches on Day 1. It’s a silence that is deafening in light of the terror realities facing us and the world.
I wept as I read the news about the brutal martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel in France at the hands of ISIS militants. My head and heart fail to comprehend the horror of having one’s throat slit at the altar as jihadists record the act while sermonizing in Arabic for the further education and publicity of their acts of terror. It seems to be one murderous event after another these days and yet, we seem to be unable or unwilling to face the reality of this evil and the roots from which it springs. This cancerous, religious ideology has infected enough followers of Islam to wreak horror and havoc across the civilized world. The silence of Democrats and the failed policies of containment and control is maddening in light of the ongoing atrocities facing us as a nation and world.
The Viking Invasions
I find myself drawn more and more to the historical accounts and responses of the fathers and mothers of the Christian faith who lived, witnessed, died and wrote about their own barbarian invasions and terrors. The reports and experiences of the invasions of the Vikings upon the Christians during the 9th century gave rise to a short prayer that sums up the their own terror and hope.
“A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine,” From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord.
The first Viking raid upon the British Isles occurred in 793 C.E., during the reign of King Beorhtric of Wessex. Simeon of Durham recorded the grim events:
“And they came to the church of Lindisfarne, laid everything waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted feet, dug up the altars and seized all the treasures of the holy church. They killed some of the brothers; some they took away with them in fetters; many they drove out, naked and loaded with insults; and some they drowned in the sea”
-Magnus Magnusson, Vikings!
“In this year terrible portents appeared over Northumbria and sadly affrightened the inhabitants: there were exceptional flashes of lightning, and firey dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine followed soon upon these signs, and a little after that in the same year on the ides of June the harrying of the heathen miserably destoyed God’s church in Lindisfarne by rapine and slaughter” -The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 793 records
Within the next five years, Viking raiders would strike at Lindisfarne and Jarrow in Northumbria, at Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Iona in Scotland, and even the islands off Aquitaine in France. Over the next 250 years, the Vikings became justly feared throughout Europe as the Hammer of the North. While no known text actually documents the famous phrase, A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine, certainly the sentiment would have been appropriate and understood in a heartfelt way by people from Orkney to Paris, from Byzantium to the New World, from Britain to Rome.”
-Robert Wernick. The Vikings.
Even though our current culture is in the entertainment throes of Viking stories, the realities of their conquests, especially upon Christians, women and the slavery that resulted is often downplayed or forgotten. Even now there are those who mock prayer as a legitimate response as we watch ISIS enslave, rape and torture men, women and children across the Mideast region and world. Christians are confronted with two fronts of rhetoric in the corners of our culture that are secularized and anti-Christian. On one hand they ridicule a prayerful response as being some kind of wish dream and fatalistic inaction and on the other they bewail any call for justice and judgement through military violence or political or legal walls of protection. We are told to swing open the gates and let in all who may or may not want to sack our own Romes. So that leaves, be silent, don’t act…just watch and worry, and oh, be friendly. Such responses or lack of response seems to grow more and more ludicrous as we watch cities burn, priests throats slit, gay people thrown off roofs, young women used as sexual slaves, suicide bombers, gunmen and murderous drivers execute countless innocents.
Augustine and the Barbarian invasions of Rome and North Africa
St. Augustine wrote “The City of God” in response to the Barbarian invasions of Rome and it’s conquered regions. He witnessed the horrors and hopes in that season of suffering that are recorded in his book. He writes as a pastor and apologist in response to the charges laid against Christians and to the sufferings of people brutalized by the invading hordes. He compassionately responds to the issue of rape and the resulting wave of suicides that began to happen by religious women devastated by the shame they felt. He testifies of the redemption and restoration of believers who abandoned their faith in the face of persecution and torture. It’s a tragic and fascinating read that addresses real world pain and questions that result from seeing good and bad people suffer together.
“If we accept good things from the hand of the Lord, why do we not also put up with the bad?” [Job 2:9-10].
“…no one should concentrate on what he suffers, but rather on what he does. Power over what you suffer is not yours to have: you are human. What is yours is the will in what you do, whether it is guilty or innocent.” -St. Augustine, City of God, ‘The sacking of Rome’.
“My brothers, I say this to your loving selves: we certainly praise, glorify and admire the holy martyrs. We celebrate their feast-days with devoted solemnity; we revere their merits; if we are able, we imitate them. In short, the martyrs have great glory; but I am not sure that the glory that belonged to the holy Job was any less. It is true that he was not told, ‘Burn incense to idols, sacrifice to foreign gods, or else deny Christ.’ However, he was told, ‘Blaspheme God’.
“The furnace of a goldsmith accepts only one fire for the dross to be reduced to ash, and the gold to be freed from impurities…stir a cesspit and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends. But the moment is identical.”
-Augustine, The City of God
Such writings reflect the many challenges we all face when evil rises unchecked in our world. The struggle with why God allows evil and how we should respond were needed then and are desperately needed today.
A Christian Rebuttal to the Greek Philosophers
One thread of ancient antagonistic cultural narratives was that Christians were responsible for the collapse and corruption of Rome. Many early Christian apologists wrote volumes of response to set the record straight and push back against the false narrative and blame.
Towards the beginning of the 3rd century, Origen of Alexandria responded to charges made seventy years earlier by Celsus (2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity.), who claimed that Christians neglected the public welfare of the Roman empire.
He criticized Christians, declaring “…if all were to do the same as you [Christians]…the affairs of the earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians…” (Against Celsus, IV.68).
Origen’s rebuttal? “If everyone acted like Christians, there would simply be no barbarians.” Here is a section of his rebuttal to the charge that Christian’s were useless to and probably guilty of subversion of the Empire.
“And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: ‘Do not those who are priests at certain shrines and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause. . . .We do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the emperor than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God'”
-Origen, Against Celsus
Why Did Rome Fall?
Historians understand that there were many reasons for the fall of the Western Empire that were more complex and possibly more internal more than external.
“A candid but rational inquiry into the progress and establishment of Christianity, may be considered as a very essential part of the history of the Roman empire. While this great body was invaded by open violence, or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion greatly insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol…the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest, and as soon as time or accident has removed artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight…The presence of the barbarians in and around the empire added to a crisis not only externally but internally. These factors helped bring an empire from “a state of health into non-existence.” The Roman army lacked both proper training and equipment. The government itself was unstable. Peter Heather in his The Fall of the Roman Empire states that it “fell not because of its ‘stupendous fabric’ but because its German neighbors responded to its power in ways that the Romans could not ever have foreseen… By virtue of its unbounded aggression, Roman imperialism was responsible for its own destruction.”
-Gibbons: The History of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
So what should be the a modern Christian response to the barbarian invasions?
The complexities of navigating the issues of terrorism, immigration, racism, faith and politics are enough for anyone to withdraw in bewilderment and frustration. Anyone who expresses their fears of being killed, beheaded, raped or enslaved are ridiculed as irrational, hysteria motivated xenophobia more than historical and present realities. Yet, each week it seems, we witness yet another tragic event in the world and it’s creeping closer and closer to our own communities. We can not place our heads in the sand and no matter how difficult it is to face, it is our problem to engage.
“According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of the world’s population live in a country where social hostilities involving religion are high, and 64 percent live where government restrictions on religion are high.” –http://www.christianitytoday.
In light of the challenges and opportunities facing Christians in America during these times we must be clear on what our responsibilities are both sacred and secular.
1. The Christian Response:
A. We must embrace the fact that we will suffer as followers of Jesus.
Persecution is a reality across the globe and always has been. Modern Westerners are just beginning to drink the cup of sufferings that her brothers and sisters have been forced to drink for centuries. Christians suffer, people die, not the church, individuals bear the weight of the cross and the Church bears witness to their sacrifices and sufferings.
“As often as we are mown down by you, the more we grow in numbers; the blood of the Christians is the seed.” -Tertullian Carthage, North Africa, early church theologian
“Stuart George Hall, a historian at University of St. Andrews, notes the church isn’t mentioned in Tertullian’s original quote. Rather, Tertullian is arguing that martyrs have “done more to win people to patient endurance of pain and death than all the work of admirable philosophers like Cicero,” said Hall. “Their blood is not so much the seed of the church as the seed of virtuous living and dying.”
“The only ultimate way to conquer evil is to let it be smothered within a willing, living, human being. When it is absorbed there, like blood in a sponge or a spear thrown into one’s heart, it loses its power and goes no further.” -Gabe D. Webbe
B. We must pray.
We are called to pray both for those who need healing and those who hurt. Our ultimate hope is in conversion of the heart of those who do evil. In the meantime, we pray for protection and provision for all facing the lions.
“Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,
and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah
Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
preserve me from violent men,
who have planned to trip up my feet.”
C. We must act like Christians.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
2. The Political Response:
Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer said, “show me the laws of any nation and I will tell you its religion.”
We must ensure that we have leaders and laws that protect us against the anti-western ideologies that weaken us as a nation and divide us as a people. For American Christians, we are one nation under God, no matter how we represent deity in America. Maintaining the correct understanding of our Republic’s separation of Church and State is critical to peace. Our pluralistic society is the gift of liberty. Our Republic is established on a Constitution and Bill or Rights, not the will of the majority. The fight for for freedom can be lost by those who forget what true freedom is and what it cost. We must beware of ideologies be there religious or political that work to destroy the foundational principles of our laws and country.
Bill or Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
3. The Government’s Response:
Our government has the responsibility to work to protect its citizens. That is done both by maintaining the rights of personal liberties and self-protection. This is because personal freedom and responsibility is at the heart of true liberty. In addition, maintaining an able and ready defense force is imperative to protecting our people and national interests at home and abroad. To undermine either of these national and historical bulwarks will make all of us more vulnerable to despotism and barbarism.
Article 2, section 1 of the Constitution:
“Before he(President) enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Article 2, Section 2
“The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states…”
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
1 Timothy 1:8-11
“We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.”
The misdirect, blame-game and culture shaming of Americans for the barbarism of others is sad example of poor leadership, short-sighted vision and soft justice. We must always do the work of introspection and repentance before we condemn the actions of others but that doesn’t mean we cannot call evil, evil and work to eradicate it.
“If only someone would climb up on a high platform and cry out at the top of his voice: “Be ashamed, oh, be ashamed, you who accuse innocent people of the very crimes you yourselves openly commit, you who attach to those who do not have the slightest part in them the things of which you and your gods are guilty! Change your lives and come to you senses!
-Justin, early church father, Second Apology 12.
In light of all that I have said, I find myself praying that Christians would rise up in this hour and work to replace the failed political policies while challenging the underlying ideologies that threaten the very freedoms we hold so dear. This is not a time to just retreat into the cloistered comfort of our religious communities and pray for it all to end or pass us by. This is not the time to berate Americans for past sins to somehow deflect from the realities of our enemies atrocities. This is not the time to be silent or afraid of debate or persecution.
This is not a time for peace but war and each of us must use the weapons God has ordained to our station of life…be they prayer, piety, politics or projectiles.
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