By: Steven Nelms
In some ways, I think I definitely would. If someone put a gun to my head, I’d say, “ya sure, pull the trigger”. It’s over quick and easy. But what if someone put a knife to my throat? A serrated knife that’s going to take its time? What would I do? Would I break down into a fit of tears? Would I renounce my faith in utter fear? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. I’d like to think that I’ve counted the cost, but then I see the video of ISIS followers cutting the heads off of 21 Egyptian Christians whose last words were simply, “My Lord Jesus”, and I think again.
These men deserve a moment of silence. God deserves endless praise and adoration. Where I struggle with reading God’s word every day, or even praying to Christ every day and praising his name every day, these 21 men knelt silently, without struggle, without tears, and simply called upon the name of Christ in their last moments. They exemplified a faith that is real. Laying down their lives for Christ was not a hypothetical for them. It was not a spiritualization of how they ought to prioritize their daily lives. It was a choice that they had to make before a blade was brought to their throats.
I have nothing to say about the actions of ISIS or their supporters. I do want to confess that I doubted the news coverage about these Christians. I doubted the authenticity of the video as I watched it for myself. I thought, “This must be staged. No one could be kneeling with a knife’s edge at their throat so contently. No one could be facing painful death without fear and trembling.” And yet these men did. To the very end. Their faith was true and they had no fear of those who could only destroy the body. They feared and stayed faithful to the one who can destroy body and soul. And now they’ve arrived home.
As Christians who are left to witness the slaughter of brothers and sisters, how are we to respond? The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt has rejoiced in their countries violent retaliation to these actions. I can’t blame them. The nature of my heart is to retaliate against violence with violence. I don’t want to see barbarism go unpunished. But is this the response we should have? I feel inadequate to speak to the proper response to your son or brother being slaughtered as I feel inadequate to say whether my own faith would be so strong in those moments of terror. But this is what I believe.
Our faith must be defined by who we are and who we worship; not defined by who we are not and who we do not worship. Some critical responses to the uproar of Christians’ in response to this tragedy has been to mention the slaughter of non-Christians at the hands of Christians in parts of central Africa. This is undeniably true. Men, women, and children have been murdered in the name of Christ within our life time. We don’t need to harken back to the Crusades to find a time of blood shed by Christians. But here is where the distinction must be made. Are these people Christians because of who they worship or are they called Christians because of who they don’t worship?
The reality is, in most parts of Africa, especially in the northwest quadrant, Islam has had such a historical stronghold over the politics, power, and economies of that area that to be a Christian is simply to not be a Muslim. Particularly in Nigeria, you have two choices. You are either a Christian or a Muslim and whichever you choose indicates more about what you didn’t choose than what you did choose. These Christians who are murdering people in the name of their faith are not Christians who worship Christ. They are Christians who don’t worship Allah, and that’s it.
So I believe the most consistent response that we can have as Christians is to continue acting in accordance with who we do worship, and not allow ourselves to be defined by who we don’t worship. Let’s not allow ourselves to be swept away by cursing and hating and all-together being consumed by thoughts over ISIS and their professed beliefs. Let’s continue to focus our time and energy on worshipping Christ and praising God, because at the end of the day, he deserves it. His name was glorified by the perseverance of these 21 saints. His name will continue to be glorified by our praises.
It’s a horrific thing that happened. The video was sickening. But in the midst of the brutality, there was an immense sense of peace in the simple utterance of the words, “My Lord Jesus”. In our remembrance of these brothers in Christ and our compassion for the families who lost brothers, sons, and fathers, let’s continue to be defined as Christians by who we worship and who we love and nothing else.
When conversations turn toward ISIS and their professed Islamic faith, let us turn the conversation to the faith of those who have died for Christ and their commitment to their Lord. And next time we think about whether we’d die for Christ, let’s not take it lightly or trivialize it or spiritualize it. Let’s be honest with ourselves and count the cost.