The author of this article is billed as a “leading expert on the persecuted church,” but I have to say that I find what he says here not only very strange but unbiblical. The gist of the article is summed up on the site as follows: “When a Christian experiences persecution or imprisonment in a foreign land, we do everything we can to extract them. But what if God has them right where he wants them?”
I grant that God does use persecution, suffering, crucifixion, death to advance the gospel and his kingdom in the world. But does that really imply that we, who see people in danger and suffering, shouldn’t attempt to rescue them? Does it mean that if we do help them, we might be thwarting God’s plans?
Would we apply the same reasoning to other situations of suffering? To the wife being beaten by her husband? To the woman being assaulted and raped? To the child being abused? To the homeless person who has no means of support and who hasn’t eaten for days? To the flood victim who has lost his house and all his belongings? Would we say “Maybe God has a good plan for this suffering and so I won’t try to help this victim”?
I hope not!
Abram did not say, when Lot was captured, “God might have a purpose for this” and leave him captive. Instead, he went and fought and rescued him (Gen 15). Ditto for David when his wives were captured (1 Sam 30).
How about a concrete example of “extraction from persecution”? “While Jezebel massacred the prophets of YHWH, … Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water” (1 Kings 18:4). Should Obadiah have been (to borrow this author’s words) “emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually strong enough” to leave them in Jezebel’s reach instead?
Rahab helped the Israelite spies escape (Josh 2). When Athaliah murdered all the king’s sons, Aunt Jehosheba rescued Joash and hid him (2 Kings 11). In Matthew 10, Jesus told his disciples, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” Obviously Jesus doesn’t think flight is a bad thing. When people were plotting to kill him, Paul escaped by being lowered from the city wall in a basket (Acts 9).
Proverbs 24:11 tells us “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” James tell us that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is” — what? To leave the orphan and widow in their suffering because God might use their suffering might bring about something good? No: “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.”
Yes, God uses even suffering for his good purpose. But that does not imply in any way that we should just leave people — let alone our brothers and sisters in Christ! — in their suffering. We may not reason from God’s sovereignty to our irresponsibility.
A follow-up thought, hard upon the heels of what I wrote earlier about the kind of commentaries you need.
When you do your own study of Scripture and then turn to your commentaries, are you hoping they’ll function as yes men, reassuring you that you’re on the right track, or that they’ll function as conversationalists, even partners in an argument over the text?
Do you hope that they’ll say what you want them to say or are you willing to listen to them and let them convince you?
Does it ever happen that you read a commentary and find it compelling, only to go on and read another one and find that he demolishes the first one’s position, only to read a third and find that he brings you at least part of the way back to that first writer’s view or maybe pushes you toward a different view altogether?
If you never find yourself going back and forth, never find yourself having to work through arguments and weigh them, never find that you have to change your mind as you study, something has gone wrong somewhere, maybe in you, maybe in the kind of commentaries you’re reading.
What kind of commentaries do you need to help you in your study of the Bible?
You don’t need commentaries that tell you, in passage after passage, exactly what you’ve always thought or only what you yourself have already discovered. Such commentaries are generally a waste of your time. Why read So-and-so telling you what you could figure out on your own?
Such commentaries may confirm your thinking, which can be comforting (“So I’m not the only one who holds this view of the text!”), and that’s fine. But they aren’t challenging — and you need to be challenged.
If you’re buying commentaries, you should know that most evangelical commentaries say what other evangelical commentaries say. Which means you don’t need a pile of evangelical commentaries on any book of the Bible. If you have one good one, you pretty much know what all the rest of them are going to say.
That’s especially true if the one good one you have is by Gordon Fee, who carefully interacts with a lot of other great commentaries to such an extent and so helpfully that once you’ve read him, you have a good sense of what those other commentaries say too.
But what you do need, alongside one or two of the best of these evangelical commentaries, are commentaries that present options you may never have considered, that argue for certain options and against others, that bring to light things you may have overlooked, that make you think and rethink.
I’m thinking of commentaries like those by John Paul Heil, who shows (and does a remarkably good job of demonstrating) that epistle after epistle is written chiastically, with each subsection chiastically structured as well.
I’m thinking, too, of commentaries like the ones by Jakob van Bruggen, because Van Bruggen is never afraid to raise exegetical possibilities you’ve never even thought of and to argue for them and back up his arguments by pointing to things in the text that never jumped out at you.
Such commentaries are time-consuming, not to say sometimes troubling, because they make you rethink things you thought you had already figured out. But for that very reason, they are worth their weight in gold.
If you’re studying a passage of Scripture and no commentary you read ever makes you change your mind or at least pulls you up short and makes you say, “Huh. That’s not how I’ve always taken this verse!” and if you never change your mind in the course of your study or waver between the very different views strongly argued in two commentaries, both excellent, you need better commentaries.