Finding Your Identity in Him

To many of us, persecution is understood to be hostility or pressure inflicted on someone because of who they are or what choices they make–it does not allow people to practice their freedom of choice in life, particularly in the areas of religion and human rights.

In the MENA region, persecution is a major tool used to create an environment of obedience and control, leaving no room to question logic or engage reason. This method of perpetuating fear in the daily lives of the people causes them to blindly follow, resulting in a society filled with fear that forces the people to be essentially handicapped. Once this oppression is established in the culture and society, it is practiced relentlessly to maintain control and power, even becoming a practice of the people, themselves. The value of human life is thus greatly distorted and in danger of being destroyed.

Persecution is manifested in three ways:

  1. The most extreme of which is death and physical harm. In the MENA region, this form of oppression is often practiced for religious reasons. For example, certain parts of the MENA area permit Shariah Law to be practiced, under which, any Muslim can be slaughtered (“their blood is free”) if they question Islam or convert to Christianity. In other words, they become Nasarah, or “Infidel”.

Death as persecution has also become part of the concept of honor and shame. If one brings shame to their family, they may be put to death. The only way for honor to be restored to the family is by eliminating the cause of the dishonor and, in most cases, that can only be done by sacrificing the one who brought the shame.

It is important to understand that the MENA area is a culture of community based on honor and shame and, therefore, honor and shame are passed on to those around you. For example, in an honor and shame culture, if I have done something wrong, that wrong will not only be held against me but also against my immediate family and the community in which I live. It becomes a mark of disgrace that will destroy the reputation of my family and everyone around me.  Forgiveness of guilt has no place in an honor and shame society. The only way to restore integrity is by removing the person who caused it–again “their blood is free”. And that is where honor killing then becomes a very regular practice. It is all about restoring the morality that has been lost and, in order to do that, blood must be sacrificed.

This all sounds a bit biblical, doesn’t it? In this, we see the first Adam and the second Adam.  The first Adam sinned, bringing indignity to the human race. This condemnation resulted in the necessary and perfect blood sacrifice of the second Adam on the cross, which took away our most disgraceful death and turned it into righteousness. Hebrews 12 reminds us that Christ endured the cross, scorning its degradation, for the joy that was set before Him. He turned shame into honor.

This concept of honor and shame is something we might not understand completely because we live in an individualistic society. In our culture, if I do something wrong, I might live with a feeling of guilt and try to run away from it.  But it never has to impact my reputation or anyone around me. This might sound like a forgiving society, but not dealing with guilt can end up destroying the moral fiber of a society. There are lessons, both good and bad, in each of these approaches, yet both, in the end, can be very destructive.

When it comes to the persecution of Christians in the MENA region, honor killing is a motive and a reason for taking the lives of those who convert to Christianity. Sadly, it is seen as something that will be rewarded by the god they worship.

  1. A second form of persecution is isolation–a person may suffer persecution by being isolated from their family and community. One’s mother, father, family, and everyone in the community will kick them out and live as though they never existed. This is particularly difficult in the Middle East, where identity is found in the family, village, town, or city one is from–a man without a community is a man without an identity. This region affiliates everyone with their father, mother, and so on. When one is introduced, their father and family line will be investigated.

This is beginning to sound biblical, as well, isn’t it? Jesus, for example–the son of the carpenter, from Nazareth. But Jesus did not want to be identified in this fashion; rather, when His mother and brothers were looking for Him, He looked at those around Him and said, ‘you are My family’.

Those who have become outcasts because of their faith find their true identity solely in Christ and the church. They are cut off from communicating with their family, their country persecutes and investigates them–they soon realize that their life in Christ is their only identity.  There is something we can learn from them…our identity must be in Christ first, before anything else.  This can be a hard line to walk in the powerful culture we live in; we will be swimming upstream, against innumerable things that want to claim our identity. As a Christian, however, such a decision is one each of us needs to make.

  1. The final form of persecution is psychological–where, over time, the looming threat of those who are in power drains the energy and minds of the persecuted. It is this fear of the unknown that wears them down. The persecutors watch and spy and listen, learning the ins and outs and comings and goings of the persecuted–they threaten harm, but with no specific timetable. This forces the persecuted to be in hiding, waiting day and night for the untold; weeks, often years will pass in this state. The psychological impact of this form of oppression is immense; the persecuted don’t fear banishment but fear the unperceived. The burden of not being able to carry on day-to-day activities and live a normal life is almost unbearable…they never know whether today might be the day they have so long been dreading.

I believe this is the most burdensome form of persecution to endure, in that it handicaps the persecuted, both physically and psychologically. In Acts 9, Ananias and the other believers were in hiding, waiting for this radical, Saul, to come at any moment to persecute them; they did not know when he would arrive. It was difficult to gather together, to meet, to worship…they lived in constant fear of Saul showing up at any time. They heard he was coming, but did not know when. In these kinds of situations, the believers wait on God, trusting Him to rescue them in miraculous ways as He did when He transformed the heart of Saul to Paul. Not all believers can handle this form of ongoing persecution and pressure.

Please pray for our family of believers in the MENA region, as they bear the burden of each of these forms of persecution, daily–that their faith may grow stronger in the midst of these trials–though “[they be] hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” 2 Corinthians 4:8, that they may rest in the knowledge of “the Lord [our] God who takes hold of [their]…hand and says to [them] do not fear; I will help you” Isaiah 41:13.