“For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;” – 2 Cor. 5:14
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Fox News reporter and his cameraman from New Zealand, who had been abducted by Islamic terrorists while reporting on the war in Israel, were released only after making the public pronouncement that they had converted to Islam. Their “conversion” was very convenient and I’m sure that the duress they were under played no part in it. Because the fact is these prisoners were in fear for their lives. But if the terrorists had an ounce of respect for a man’s right of free will, and if they had an ounce of faith that their belief system was about peace, decency, and goodness, then they would have discouraged the public airing of the “conversion” of these men. No, they had to air it because they only know fear and they only advance their ways by fear.
These thoughts came to mind after reading a September 9 story from Israel that Palestinian gunmen broke into and destroyed the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in a west bank town. This violent action followed a number of threats for the YMCA to get out of town because they were representing and talking about Christianity. I understand that the YMCA doesn’t teach everything accurately about the Gospel and they will have to answer to God for that, but they do NOT spread their beliefs by force. But the message from these Hamas terrorists is that their belief can’t compete and so they have to use force. But hearts are not converted by being dominated.
And most recently new violence has broken out after the Catholic Pope quoted the 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos who characterized some things of Islam as evil and inhuman.
5 churches attacked in Palestinian areas following Pope’s comments on Islam ALI DARAGHMEH NABLUS, West Bank (AP) – Palestinians wielding guns and firebombs attacked five churches in the West Bank and Gaza on Saturday, following remarks by Pope Benedict that angered many Muslims.1
Perhaps it was only coincidence, but after angry Muslims began calling for the Pope’s death, there was this story,
“just hours after a leading Somali cleric condemned the pope’s remarks last week on Islam and violence . . . . An elderly Italian nun who devoted her life to helping the sick in Africa was shot dead by two gunmen at a hospital Sunday in an attack possibly linked to worldwide Muslim anger toward Pope Benedict XVI.2”
This response is the least desirable from a people who wish to show that their religion to be about peace. A guest on the Hugh Hewitt spoke succinctly on the irony of their words and actions: “they are violently showing that they are not violent.”
Contrast what I am describing here with the way that God advances His will. From the act of creation to the act of sending His Son to die for sinful, God compels more by love. Though He is a God of justice (Heb. 10:31), He gives ample reason and opportunity for every soul to obey Him. With faith and obedience, a believer has the conviction that God is a powerful and loving God. This influence that “leads us to repentance” (Rom. 2:4) is capped by the whole testimony of His love that He demonstrated through Jesus Christ.
“God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Rom. 5:8
This is a powerful message that Paul refers to as “God’s power to save”, which is the power of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). “Faith comes by hearing” and not by force (Rom. 10:17). The true God doesn’t want people coming to Him by compulsion since “those who come to God must believe that He exist, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The love of Christ is so compelling (2 Cor. 5:14) that you don’t have to, nor should you, ever force someone to believe and obey the Gospel. Here’s what Christians do: they speak the truth in love and then they go on their way. What this says to me is that the God who gave us free will, respects that free will so as to leave the choice up to the person, whether or not to obey Him. Not all religions are so compelling that they can prosper without compulsion.
Thank God that the message of Christ is not advanced by fear tactics. A person can never be forced to be a Christian. You can persuade people of the truth which is a type of pressure for some people. You can communicate that your fellowship ties hinge on being unified in faith and that creates some pressure too. But the unconverted person is unharmed without any threat of violence. Christians tell the truth (which is sometimes painful), and they do it with respect to the non-christian, and then they go their merry way.
I believe that the truth of the Gospel prevails without force. And the influence of truth is so very compelling that it weaves its way into the fabric of our beings. God’s way makes sense because it respects people, and it brings liberty and order that spreads outward into the thinking of other rational people who hear it. It is this influence that the terrorists cannot stand or tolerate. I love Jesus Christ because He did not force me to convert; he compelled me! He conquers with the “sword of His mouth”, which is truth and not by guns, violence, and mayhem. My heart is converted by the force of truth. I can say, as John did:
“We love him, because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19
1. 5 Churches Attacked in Palestinian Areas following Pope’s Comments on Islam. Accessed at: http://www.breitbart.com/news/na/cp_w091615A.xml.html on Sept. 16, 2006
2. “Speculation rises over Catholic nun’s slaying”. Accessed from Houston Chronicle online version at: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/world/4194038.html. Accessed on Sept. 18, 2006