This week the world in general and the Christian world in particular has been watching the events taking place around Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, the Christian Iranian pastor who is facing the death penalty for abandoning Islam. In the past week, Pastor Nadarkhani has appeared in court three times and was asked each time to renounce his Christian faith…he refused each time and is now awaiting sentencing, which may be death by hanging.
Iran’s constitution allows Christianity as a legitimate minority faith, but does not allow the conversion from Islam to Christianity as an adult or if one’s ancestry is the Islam religion. The death penalty, however, has never been stipulated as punishment for such conversion. Pastor Nadarkhani maintains that he has never been a Muslim as an adult, but does have Islamic ancestry. When asked to recant his Christian faith, Nadarkhani said:
“To repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ? I cannot.”
Arrested and held in Iran’s Gilan province since October 2009, Nadarkhani was finally sentenced to death in September 2010. The White House has also condemned the conviction and possible death of Pastor Nadarkhani, saying the execution would demonstrate Iran’s “utter disregard” for religious freedom.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has a website where e-mails may be sent to the Iranian ambassador protesting the execution and asking for Nadarkhani’s release from prison: http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=88&ea.campaign.id=12209 Over 27,000 e-mails have already been sent. Another web site to visit for information is: http://www.assistnews.net
In response to such world-wide condemnation, the Iranian government said on Saturday (Oct. 1, 2011) that Nadarkhani is not facing the death penalty for Christianity, but for “security-related crimes”. This is seen as an attempt to counter the negative world response towards the conviction.
As we think of and read about and pray for our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, we long for the intervention of God in these circumstances. Where is He? Why is He allowing such evil to happen to his beloved church?
I think a lot about “believing beyond reality” — that is, believing through the tangible present into the realm of the unseen, that untouchable reality that we as Christians define as faith. That is a belief in the victory of Jesus over death, over the principalities and powers of darkness, over Satan and His hosts, over evil. The “now but not yet” category of belief.
The early Christians, as we read their story in scripture, certainly seemed to act as if the defeat of evil and the return of Almighty God had already happened. Their joy in the victory of Jesus over death and evil was immediate and contagious–according to the book of Acts and the later writings of the apostles. Their actions imply that the Kingdom of God had indeed come and their new task was to implement Jesus’ teachings about that kingdom–sharing the word of hope and the teachings of Jesus with their world–not in denial or in ignorance of evil and its effects, but in the certain knowledge of its already defeated state.
The second coming of Jesus, the defeat of evil and the restoration of God’s perfect kingdom, is one of the realities that I place into that category of “now but not yet”. His coming has surely already occurred in my life and in those of fellow believers, and we daily live out the implementation of that fact — not in the denial of a historical time-line for His return or in the disbelief of a life with Him in heavenly realms, or in the denial of suffering and evil in our lives and in our world, but in the soul-rest that His will has been and is being and will be accomplished.
Our task remains the same as those early Christians and every Christian since–the task of the Church herself–to live in the truth of the happening, in the realized hope of glory, to diminish and fight against those falsehoods of evil and injustice that hold themselves in pretentious opposition to the victory of Jesus in His death atonement and resurrection. We are not called to speculate over times and events and meanings and signs, but to live in the reality of a risen Savior who is here, now.