Once there were some men who went to a town to tell the people to receive Jesus. But the townsfolk refused to listen. They refused to make preparations. They refused to receive Jesus.
Feeling rightly indignant, one of Jesus’ friends offered to call for heavenly fire and send the entire town to hell in a flaming act of judgment.
While this is found in Luke 9, the disciple’s sentiment seems contained again in the line from a Facebook post reported here, a story of men from the US who were mobbed and beaten in Nepal while street preaching. Wrapping up the story, they write this line: “The people in that crowd were monsters, made for hell, as is this country.”
I’m sure, given their horrible experience, they felt justified in condemning an entire country as “made for hell”. Just like the disciples felt justified in condemning the entire Samaritan village to fiery deaths for not receiving Jesus.
The only problem is, Jesus rebuked his disciples for such impulses.
That sentence makes me cringe for several reasons.
1) It does not stand in the tradition of Christian response to persecution. Didn’t Jesus say, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? It wasn’t “condemn them and their entire country to hell” was it? Does this seem like Romans 12:14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” – to anybody?
Since Jesus, from the cross, was praying for the forgiveness of his murderers – I suspect we have little room to do anything less.
Accounts of the early Christians in the coliseum or men like Richard Wurmbrand in Tortured for Christ are remarkable for many things – chief among them their constant prayer for the redemption of their persecutors.
We used to be known as a forgiving people, as a people who die with grace.
2) It does not stand in the stream of Biblical mercy, love and grace. If ever there was an entire city “made for hell” it was the city of Nineveh. And yet God punishes and chastises Jonah the prophet when he fails to see a city made by and for God – a city that God does well to take pity on and show mercy to.
Even when God, through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, pronounces judgment on countries, He’s also proclaiming a day when a way of salvation will be made for them.
Writing people, cities and countries off doesn’t seem to be the way of God’s mercy.
3) It lacks an understanding of God’s pursuing Gospel. When Jim Elliot and the other men were killed by the Auca Indians – did their spouses condemn the entire tribe as “made for hell” and decide to move on to a more receptive people? Actually, because of their forgiveness of their spouses’ murderers and commitment to continue loving and living alongside the jungle tribe, there is a thriving fellowship where there once was not.
The spread of God’s Good News often starts amid persecution – and is carried forward by survivors of that persecution who continue to see the marred, fallen image of God in the people who beat and slaughter them. God continues to pursue Pharisees, Tax Collectors, and murderers despite their provocations. And often wins them through the gracious response of His followers.
4) It smacks of a lack of desire to understand and work within a culture different from their own. Anyone familiar with this brand of street preaching, knows that they often discuss heckling and other forms of resistance and persecution when street preaching. They face it all of the time when they preach – overseas as well as in the US. But I’ve never read them condemning an American city or the entire country as “monsters… made for hell”. We’re quicker to see the evil of another country or people than that of our own.
I’ve lived in a country very much like Nepal. Street preaching doesn’t go over well in that part of the world – from any religious or political group, not just from Christians. Getting someone from ANY point of view worked up on the streets, gathering a large crowd, proclaiming beliefs usually ends badly. There’s nothing particularly anti-Jesus about this mob aside from the fact that the riot you’re hearing about this time happened to Christians. Tomorrow, it’ll be some politicians or some new guru who incites a mob.
I would challenge these men, if they really care about the country of Nepal, to live there for a couple of years. Live in a Nepali home, learn to speak Nepali. Build the types of relationships where people can see the genuineness of your message through word and deed. Where you can build the type of space to confront with truth in a way that will be understood.
I know people who live and work in Nepal – people who’ve been there for years. People who’ve sacrificed the most productive years of their life and all of their energies to reaching out in that country. And they know God’s at work in Nepal. They would certainly disagree it’s a country made for hell – they would tell you stories about God’s brilliant grace being poured out on that tiny nation.
I’ve never experienced this type of persecution, it’s true. But I’ve sat across the table from people who have. Men and women who’ve been kicked out of their families, beaten by their fathers and brothers, excommunicated from their communities and left to starve to death without friends and support. Perhaps some of the most painful persecution one can experience.
And I have never once heard them condemn their countrymen to hell.
Perhaps that’s because they see the commonness of their condition and that of their countrymen. Perhaps how much persecution you’re willing to endure while still speaking grace and blessing depends directly on how much you consider the people persecuting you as of the same human condition.
I don’t fault the men in this report for their desire to preach Christ. I don’t fault them for the very real, emotional response they’ve had to this horrible and troubling experience. I don’t negate the sacrifices they’ve made to leave their homes for a while.
I would just remind them, God delights more in mercy than in sacrifice. (Matt 12:7) And encourage them to forgive.