Sunday, February 14, 2010

Evangelizing Our Chinese Occupiers

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.

—Psalm 37:21

It’s not news that Uncle Sam is well over his head in debt and becoming ever more so. What I hear little of from Christians is what effect this debt will have on our nation’s sovereignty. If “we” owe the Chinese trillions of dollars, is there no reason to expect them to want to collect it? If they do, we may be playing host to the Red Army before long, and we need to think about what kind of hosts we want to be.

This post was prompted by a fascinating paper I edited last year, from a Korean brother who has spent time in Iraq since the US invasion. His topic was how God’s people are to deal with occupying soldiers. Though he has not been under an occupying army in South Korea, he has in Iraq. Much of his paper details Biblical examples of God using soldiers who were not Israelites to advance his purposes, in particular Ittai and Uriah, who served David, as well as Naaman, Cornelius, the Roman officer in Capernaum, and the Philippian jailor. He concludes, “God loves even foreign soldiers who are our enemies. God wants to save them and to change their lives so they can be the people of God.”

As I read, I remembered the words of a man who had taken a break from the military to fly missionaries. His point was that God considers the military an honorable profession, as proven by Jesus’ commendation of the faith of one Roman centurion, another being the first to recognize after Jesus’ death that he was God’s son, and a third, Cornelius, being the first notable gentile convert.

I have a different take on these fellows. I would argue that it was precisely because they were held in contempt by the visible covenant community that God chose to speak through them.

Mark says in his very first sentence that he wrote his gospel to show that Jesus was “the Son of God.” Yet the phrase occurs only two other times in the gospel, once spoken by demons and the other spoken by the centurion. Is it more likely that this was Mark’s way of saying that from the greatest (the centurion) to the least (the demons) Jesus was acknowledged as the Son of God? Or can we assume that Mark, as a Jew, and his audience considered the Romans as close to demons as humans could be, and that he was asking rhetorically, “If demons both supernatural and human could see that Jesus was the Son of God, what excuse does anyone have to deny it?” We see the same phenomenon in Naaman (2 Ki 5; cf. Jesus’ take on this in Lk 4:27), in the Recabites (Jr 35), in the Samaritan playgirl (Jn 4), in the tax collectors and prostitutes, and in the women at the empty tomb: those the visible covenant community despise see God while the “righteous” miss him.

Were those soldiers bad people? As I’ve said before, I think soldiers are just like the rest of us, people who love their friends and family and strive for excellence in their personal lives. And we see it in the men mentioned: Cornelius “and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:2). The centurion in Capernaum loved the Jews and even built their synagogue (Luke 7:5).

Yet I don’t think for a moment that any of them would have hesitated to imprison anyone who spray-painted “Roman, go home!” on the side of his oxcart. It was soldiers like them who in the line of duty dashed infants against stones under Nebuchadnezzar and killed all the babies in Bethlehem in Jesus’ day, ran Auschwitz, and in our own time ran people out of their homes in New Orleans, confiscated their weapons, refused them passage over bridges out of the city, and imprisoned them in the Superdome.

Good people. Bad actions. Why? They are sinners who need Jesus. No more, no less.

One last point my pilot friend missed. God didn’t send Cornelius and the centurion to Judah so that they would spread their Roman religion to the Jews. He sent them there so they would meet the God of Israel. If “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Co 12:10), it would follow that the gospel flows from the weak to the strong, from the Israelite slaves to the Egyptians, from David the refugee to Ittai the Philistine, from the women at the tomb to the apostles, from Paul and Silas to the Philippian jailor.

Which brings us back to the Chinese.

(I say Chinese because I think they’ve got the best moral case for an invasion: Uncle Sam has gone into debt to them, and they have every right to collect on it. [Whether Uncle Sam has the right to indemnify us who have disagreed with him all along is another matter.] Maybe it won’t be the Chinese. Maybe it will be the Mexicans or the Muslims or the Mafia or just a garden-variety mob. But Uncle Sam isn’t long for this world, and his successor is unlikely to be an improvement.)

When the Chinese come, we can expect to see platoons of the kind of soldiers who slaughtered the babies in Bethlehem. If we are given what we gave the Iraqis (Lk 6;30), the occupation will be preceded by “shock and awe” and house-to-house battles in the streets that take millions of innocent lives and leave millions more maimed and homeless. There will probably also be more than a few Chinese evangelical Christians doing everything in their power to put down the “terrorists” and “insurgents.” If the worst they demand of us after the mission is accomplished is that we carry their packs for a mile, we’ll be getting off easy. They will be under orders to make us unhappy, and they will be good soldiers who follow orders.

But there will be the occasional Cornelius, the occasional Capernaum centurion, those whom God will send here so that they can meet him. The evangelization of China that Hudson Taylor and Eric Liddell did not complete may come through us on our own streets and in our own houses. When we are really weak, when we have lost everything we depend on—our church buildings, our youth programs, our publishing houses—we may really be strong in the Lord and finally able to persuade the Chinese of the truth and worth of the gospel.

Do we love Jesus enough to welcome that opportunity, or will we fight to the death to protect our deadbeat uncle?

UPDATE: After seeing this, I think I was much too hard on the Chinese. The occupation army is more likely to be made up of the US military—at least at first.

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