July 1, 2010

Living by Grace 
During Violence and Persecution

By Ezra OkiomaIt was December 30, 2007, in the eve of the new year; my country had gone through a highly contested national election. Allegations of a rigged election had griped the country. Everywhere there were evidences of tension and fear. Political animosity was percolating. The Electoral Commission announced the results.

2010 1523 page18I vividly remember that night’s scenario. I heard horrendous screams from the neighborhood. I ran upstairs and opened the window and peered through the curtain. I couldn’t believe what I saw: fires were dancing in the air, bullet sounds were whistling all over. I knew my neighborhood was on fire—for I live next to the largest slum dwelling in sub-Saharan Africa. The gates were locked and word went around that no one should go out. Young men from one tribe were killing others. Belonging to a tribe, my family’s safety was at stake; I knew that at any time my family might be victims of the violence.

I stand here to let you know that you can live by grace in times of violence and persecution. Oh yes, we live in a world torn up by violence. It has become a commonplace thing to see and have violence. . . . All forms and acts of violence characterize every ?culture and society today.

Grace at the Inception ?of Earthly Violence
The book of Genesis roots human history in a bloody battle of revenge, violence, and inexplicable divine intervention. Life after the Fall is vividly portrayed in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-16. After verse 8 Abel lies motionless on the ground. He will not be getting up. His heart has stopped beating. His brain functions have ceased. His lungs no longer expand and contract with the breath of God. Abel is dead.

The great controversy, which began in heaven, has escalated to Planet Earth, and Abel has become the first human murder casualty. The Bible spares us the grim details; we are not told precisely how Cain accomplished his horrible deed. The world’s first baby has become the world’s first murderer, and neither he nor the world will ever be the same again. Cain does not know it, but his sin will set off a chain of violence that will affect the entire planet.

2010 1523 page18The thought never entered the mind of Cain that a day will come when nations will train armies of men in the science of killing other armies ?of men, all crafted to destroy human life—on land, on sea, and in the air. And it all starts with two brothers alone in a field, one of them with hatred in his heart.

Cain never repents; he never admits his guilt or apologizes for his deed. He should have been killed for his act of murder, but grace is the generous character of God in the face of human rebellion. The grace of God is vividly portrayed in every angle of this account. Grace guides the crushed; grace warns the tempted; grace curses the proud; and grace pities the wanderer (see Gen. 4:13-16). Ellen G. White says God permitted Cain to live in order to demonstrate to the universe what happens when sin goes unpunished. After his exile Cain lived only to rebel against God—as did his children and his children’s children (“the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” [Ex. 20:5, KJV]). And Cain became the head of a line of enemies of God that went further and further in sin until it reached fruition in the “high-handed sinners” of the antediluvian world (Gen. 6:5).

Grace Amid Persecution ?(The Hebrew Boys)
GC link devotionalsThe Bible is full of examples of men and women, young and old, who experienced grace in tough times. The three Hebrew boys (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) experienced the grace of God in a period of persecution. Nebuchadnezzar gave them one last chance to fall down and worship the image or else they would be thrown into a blazing furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king: “We have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace and will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (see Dan. 3:16-18). The hottest furnace ever known to the Chaldeans could not consume them, for the Lord God had delivered them from the fires of consummation.

We may be under pressure to deny our trust in Jesus; we may be the unwanted lot in the society; we may be undergoing persecution because of our decision to believe and obey God’s will; but the Lord assures us of His grace to protect us. God’s deliverance is not dependent upon our will but always upon His.

Grace in the Early Christian Church During Persecution
When we consider the apostolic times after Jesus’ ascension, violence loomed across the Christian world. God’s servants suffered persecution and violence. The apostle John became the victim of persecution, facing the fury of the enemy, and was exiled to Patmos. This was all intended to be a lonely and miserable death in oblivion. But the grace of God found its way to the island, and the apostle received the great visions and revelations recorded in Holy Scripture for our salvation’s sake.

You may be going through a painful experience right now because of your choice to follow Jesus; you may be under siege because you profess Christian faith as held by Seventh-day Adventists, but I want to let you know that God’s grace is sufficient in such times. The apostle Paul was right when he wrote: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8, 9, KJV).

Grace in Jesus’ Time of Violence and Persecution
The message and ministry of Jesus clash profoundly with this world. He announces God’s forgiveness of sinners, promises the future to the poor, welcomes outcasts and strangers, calls all to repentance and a new way of life characterized by love for God ?and others.

It was divine necessity—the necessity of God’s gracious and noncoercive love—that the love of God be fully expressed in all vulnerability in Jesus Christ. It was sinful human necessity that Jesus Christ mediated God’s forgiveness and inaugurated the reign of God, characterized by justice, freedom, and peace.

I stand here tonight to let you know that you can live through times of violence and persecution through the help of God’s miracle-working grace. This same grace can help us forgive one another and this can be a reality only if you contemplate God’s amazing grace of forgiveness.

Ezra Okioma, pastor, Central ?Seventh-day Adventist Church, Nairobi, Kenya