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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Wrath of God in the Present Sunni Shia War: A Pentecostal Perspective



Aleppo Syria, "The Beautiful"


This blog posting examines a theologically unpopular and neglected topic: the wrath of God. It also suggests how the mercy of God flowers once the wrath of God has done its work to bring change and repentance.

This topic will be examined first from its biblical example and then from an example manifest in 20th Century European history, and finally to the present situation in the 21th Century in the Sunni Shia War now raging in Syria and Iraq.

It is the author’s contentions that the present Sunni Shia war is the beginnings of the wrath of God on Islam.  Further, that with much prayer and intercession by Christians, it could result in the mercy of God having great effect on the Muslim peoples through mass conversions to Christianity.[1]  

 The Biblical View of the Wrath of God:
One of the clearest biblical examples of the wrath of God in action is the description of the destruction of Solomon’s temple. The book of 2 Chronicles describes it in tragic and stark terms;
The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place.  But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.  He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.  He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power.  The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah. (2 Chronicles 36: 15-21)

What the chronicler left out, perhaps to avoid a salacious tint, was that victorious armies of the era were permitted to rape the women in the captured city for a number of days. Also excluded was a description of the forced march of the captives to Babylon. Surely that march, as in all such events, must have had many heartbreaking scenes of weaker members left to die of starvation and exposure, and of the captors tormenting and abusing the women within the column of captives, etc.
But the grace and mercy operating among the exiles was larger than they imagined, even in the midst of their humiliation and suffering. Jeremiah wrote to the captives with an upbeat message.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29: 4-7)
They did reestablish normal lives in Babylon and did prosper. But note also that when the exiles returned to Jerusalem to begin the tasks of rebuilding the Temple and then its walls, they brought with them the institution of the synagogue. This was necessary for universal worship in areas distant from the Temple, and is the building block of the Christian Church of the future. The exiles also came back to Jerusalem with a renewed fervor for the Word of God and determination to follow its commandments. As it turned out, the Second Temple, with Herod’s renovation and additions was far more glorious than the First Temple, and was the place honored by the Messiah’s presence and frequent teachings.
All of which is to say that the wrath of God can be horrific and terrible when a people are in the midst of it. Yet there is also a salvific element that redeems and changes the end situation for the better. God’s goodness is manifest even in His wrath, or as C.S Lewis’ expressed, God’s love is a “severe mercy.”
The Wrath of God in Modern Times: A VERY brief history of Germany.
I would like to suggest that the history of Germany is a case study of the wrath of God falling upon a people, and acting as a “severe mercy” to bring about a better spiritual outcome.
At the time of the Germanic invasions of the crumbling Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes were independent and often at odds with one another. The Kingdom of Charlemagne grouped several of the tribes together for a moment in history, but from then on it was a process of fragmentation into tiny, small or mid-sized kingdoms. Prussia, on the coast of the North Sea developed as one of the larger kingdoms. Prussia also eventually led the reunification of the Germanic kingdoms to its south and west.
Prussia’ prominence began at a point in history when French, Austrian and Russian and Sweden allied and plotted to partition it. This was prevented by a series of brilliant military campaigns led by Frederic the Great (1712-1786). Frederic established a highly efficient military and splendid officer corps, and this acquired a mythical glow with the passage of time. Frederic managed to add some territory to Prussia, but further expansion had to wait a later generation.
 
Frederick the Great leading his troops in battle                                 
The unification of Germany, under Prussian leadership, was brought forward in the 19th Century Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898). He was a genius in diplomacy, and politics.  But he also harbored a disdain and racial hatred towards the Polish people, wishing that they be exterminated.[2] He unified Germany by inciting three wars: one against Denmark, one against Austria, and the last against France. They were quickly won by the superior Prussian Army, and stirred a desire among the Germans for political unification. Under the Pan-German fervor, the lessor German kingdoms gathered under Prussia’s umbrella into the North German Federation, controlled by Prussia, but with significant autonomy.

Bismarck in his general's uniform
In the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 France was both defeated and humiliated. Not only did France loose the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, but it had to pay and indemnity to Germany. This set the scene for World War I. The war was fought principally in France, where German armies gained rapid initial victories.  But then it stalemated for four years with very heavy casualties to all sides and huge destructiveness.  Germany was defeated in 1918 as fresh American divisions tipped the balance towards the Allies.
The magnitude of the war, the rise of a communist state in Russia (and almost in Bavaria) should have been an invitation for Christians to pray for a revival in Europe. But that did not happen. The Churches in Protestant Europe were cessationist, and in Germany especially influenced by liberal theology and “higher criticism,” i.e. that the biblical miracles did not happen. They knew nothing of the gifts of the Spirit, and disdained the revivalism of the American churches. Karl Barth, the most famous theologian of the era, brought back an Evangelical understanding of the Gospels, but remained mired in cessationsim.[3] In sum, the churches and were powerless to demonstrate healing and deliverance, or to mediate reconciliation to the continent. In fact, before the War the German Evangelical churches officially rejected Pentecostalism as “from below” in the Berlin Declaration of 1909. They had read about the Azusa St. revival and wanted nothing to do with it.
Instead of World War I functioning as a prophetic warning to the German peoples of the evil of militarism and ultra-nationalism, the opposite happened. The Nazi movement arose, extolling the superiority of the Arian race, anti-Semitism, and the virtues of German militarism, as in Frederic the Great. Hitler railed that  Germany almost won the war in spite of being vastly outnumbered, but lost only because of the back-stabbing, communist Jews. German Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, mostly failed to discern the Pagan and demonic character of Nazism, and only a small “confessing church” actively opposed Hitler.

Nazi poster
We all know what happened next, and do not need to rehearse the details of Nazi anti-Semitism, genocide and aggression. But it should be noted that Nazi atrocities against the Polish people are largely unknown. Hitler followed and expanded Bismarck’s darkest yearnings. He ordered the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia, with the ultimate intent of creating a nation of ignorant surfs under Germanic overlords. In fact, in the early years of WWII Polish intellectuals were rounded up and purposely worked to death in Nazi concentration camps.
Germany suffers the Wrath of God:
We can now begin to see World War II as an activity of God’s wrath to an unrepentant nation. Germany again began the war with brilliant victories, as in the campaigns of Frederic the Great. The French Army was destroyed and the British Army kicked out of Europe in only six weeks of fighting. Nazi armies then turned to Russia and again experienced amazing victories, but bogged down in the midst of the brutal Russian winter and new divisions from the Russian hinterland.  These were hastily trained and dispatched by the superior German Army, but no matter, new divisions replaced the decimated ones.[4]  
It was principally through the bomber campaigns by the British and American air forces that the wrath of God came directly to Germany.  How this happened is significant. By late 1943 Allied air forces had achieved a major degree of air superiority over Europe.  Allied planners believed Germany would be defeated by 1944, and in fact German intelligence agreed. After the war, German intelligence officers shared their puzzlement at the Allied targeting strategy. Had the Allied bombers targeted the German electric grid, and Germany’s limited petroleum facilities, the war would have indeed ended in 1944 with German industry totally shut down.
But that did not happen. The War dragged on until May of 1945. American bombers went after specific manufacturing targets, such as aircraft plants, and their supporting industries. The much publicized raid on the ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt, Germany, is an example of this strategy. In fact, that raid was a costly fiasco that did nothing to stop German war production. Germany quickly moved her main industries underground and in dispersed sites outside of its cities. War production in 1944 was actually higher than in 1943. The magnificently engineered German jets and tanks kept rolling off the production lines until the day of surrender. All the while, American bombs fell at or around the sometimes empty factories in the centers of German cities. The famous American Norden bombsight was less accurate than publicized and bombs would often land a quarter of a mile off target.  Thousands of civilians perished or had their homes demolished in the misses.
Berlin in 1945
The British had a different strategy which was more brutal. It was to carpet bomb the cities and thus destroy German morale. That also did not work. It mostly made the survivors mad and led credence to Nazi propaganda that the Allies intended to eradicate Germany. Nazi propaganda also promised that the new jet airplanes would soon turn the tide.
Through all this the German people suffered tremendously. Multiple German cites underwent intense bombing which resulted in super-hot “fire-storms” in which everything burned: the buildings, appliances, food stuffs, people, and even bricks disintegrated in the intense heat. Between Allied bombers and Russian artillery the Germans suffered perhaps one and a quarter million civilian deaths. To that must be added about five million military deaths, the majority form the Eastern Front via the despised Slavic (Russian) forces.
The Russian soldiers were not gentle conquerors, and the women of Berlin and other Russian occupied areas suffered a prolonged round of rape and abuse. Further, after the War, German borders were shifted and reduced, with large sections given to Poland (which in turn lost territory to Russia). The German populations in the reassigned areas where driven out, as well as many ethnic Germans who lived in various enclaves in Eastern Europe. Perhaps another 500,000 Germans died in that forced migration to the remaining part of Germany. (Does this sound similar to what happened to the Jews of the First Temple destruction?)
Allied planners feared guerrilla warfare by Nazi troops immediately after the War. In fact, Nazi propaganda in the last weeks of the war promised as much. Nothing of the sort took place. The German people were truly shell shocked and wanted no more war.  Further, as the revelations of the brutality of the concentration camps became known, and the extent of the Nazi Genocide revealed, many Germans were shocked and began experiencing repentance. The idolatries of the Frederick the Great militarism and Bismarck’s racism were largely broken.[5]
Significantly, in the first post-War election (1948) there was a possibility that the Communist Party would win. But there was a spiritual turn around brought about mainly by the campaign of a German American Lutheran pastor and evangelist, Frank Buchman. He had founded a precursor to Alcoholics Anonymous, called the “Oxford Movement,” and then the anti-communist “Moral Rearmament Movement.” He campaigned and persuaded many Germans to vote for democracy and the new Christian Democrat Union party. His work was especially important in reversing Communist Party gains among the miners in the Ruhr.[6] The CDU won the early post-War elections and went on to rule West Germany into the 1960s.
Indeed, most Germans have repented of their militarist and Nazi past.  But that did not convert into a more robust and active form of Christianity. Cessationsim, in its Protestant and Catholic varieties, and theological liberalism, remained the norm, continuing to weaken the churches. Germany, along with Europe, slipped into ever increasing atheism, materialism and sexual libertinism.
That the manifestation of the wrath of God did not result in the full conversion of Germany is not surprising. Mass revivals and conversions of any sort are always incomplete, and need to be refreshed. American has had seasons of great revivals and yet its current spiritual state is  lamentable. The wrath of God did succeed in shocking the German people out of militarism, ant-Semitism and Nazism.  And in the working of God’s mercy, the Germans resumed their national existence as hard-working, scientific and inventive people. But God would not force them into a revived Christianity.  That is the work of the Church through revived and Spirit-filled Christian leaders – mostly absent since the Berlin Declaration.
The Sunni-Shia War as the Wrath of God:
Before I proceed to outline why I believe that the present Sunni-Shia War is a manifestation of the wrath of God, I need to say some things that are radically politically incorrect.
Secular academics, and not a few Christians, believe that Islam is to be ranked as a “great” religion. It is most often classified as one of the three “Aramaic” religions, the other two being Judaism and Christianity. Islam’s origins in Judaism and early Christianity, and the Koran’s similarities and points of contact with the Bible seem to affirm this classification.
But this is a purely historical and totally superficial view which lacks discernment. In both Judaism and Christianity the scriptures are incarnational, whereas the Koran is a mediumistic document.  For example, we see in the Epistles a wide variety of styles, different vocabulary and focuses of thought. Paul’s letters have run on sentences, but the letter of Hebrews is elegant and written in sophisticated Greek, etc. All this signifies very individual human authors that the Holy Spirit utilized and inspired while respecting the autonomy, memories and uniqueness of the authors.
Not so with the Koran. The Koran came from as a series of saying recorded from the moth of Mohamed as he was in an altered state of consciousness, and claiming to receive specific utterances from the angel Gabriel. We have nothing of the Prophets’ own words and thoughts. It is all from the spirit that dictated to him.  In blunt terms, Mohamed was an unintentional medium, and the Koran is the fruit of spiritism.
The Angel Gabriel whispering to Mohamed
Because it is a mediumistic document, we can assume that it is demonically laced, as all such products of mediumship.  Back in the 1970sI was into the New Age Movement and read several spiritualist works enthusiastically, including the Seth books then popular. These books had a lot of nice moralistic advice, such as not eating meat and being kind to others to avoid bad karma, but the real demonic agenda was subtly attached. It was to accept a religious system in which repentance was absent, a Savior missing, and Worship of God replaced by meditation.
Similarly when one reads the Koran one finds much good moral advice (which often turns into legalistic bondage). Unlike modern spiritualism, there is a strong command to worship the One God. But there are missing elements of the Judeo-Christian scriptures which leads to spiritual ineffectiveness and destructiveness. As Pope Benedict mentioned in one of his early discourses on Islam, the Koran has a concept of forceful expansion through war, which contradicts the character of God ad Father and the One who loves all his creatures.[7]
Salient to the failure of the “Arab Spring” to establish viable democratic is the absence in the Koran of the concept of mutual submission as called forth by Paul: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) Nor does Islam command its follower to forgive and love ones enemies as Christ did. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”(Matt 5:44)
Without getting into further details of Islamic religion, let me go straight to my assertion that the wrath of God is now manifesting through the Sunni-Shia War. Why would this be so, and why now? It seems that the past seventy years have changed the spiritual situation of Islam for the worse to the point where God’s wrath is practically inevitable.
Islamic nations have shifted from tolerance of Jews to a universal hatred of Jews and the Jewish state of Israel. For centuries Jews lived in Mid East countries in relative peace. They could worship openly and without risk of disturbance or persecution. Now there is a universal hatred of the Jews and passionate desire to eliminate the Jewish state.
The change is reminiscent of what happened in Germany in the 20th Century. Certainly anti-Semitism was present in all European nations as legal codes and popular opinion - and in the murderous pogroms and expulsions of the Middle Ages. But in the 19th century that began to weaken with the rise of democratic governments. In Germany the Kaiser was careful to protect Jews from any sort of government abuse or mob actions that one found, for instance, in Imperial Russia. The Rise of the Nazis changed all of that. Pogroms were in, as in the infamous “crystal night” of 9-10 November, 1938, when Jewish stores and synagogues were smashed and looted. The Nazis enacted vicious anti-Semitic laws, leading ultimately to the infamous Holocaust.
In sum, being violently ant-Semetic is an invitation to the wrath of God.
Arab Islamic peoples have similarly shifted from being tolerant of Christians to a spectrum of intolerance ranging from harassment to persecution and murder. Christians in the Middle East have been and continue to be harassed and chased out of their ancestral lands at an alarming rate, and the overall proportion of Christians living in the middle East has decreased from about 25% to about 7% just in a few decades. The Egyptian pogroms against Coptic Christians after the recent anti-Morsi coup was nothing less than another “crystal night.”

Radical Islam seriously distorts the image of God.  The third commandment warns against the wrong use of God’s name, and this indicated that God does not take lightly insults or distortions about Him. Paul in Romans 2 shows us that we can see at least some of God’s characteristics in the beautiful created universe. This indicates to us that God is a God of love. Radical Islam seems to confuse God and Satan. Islamic radicals are perpetually angry, aggressive and violent, and believe God is pleased with that.  That is a distortion of God, a “misnaming” of Him in an active sense, and something that must provoke His wrath.
If my analysis is correct, that the present Sunni Shia war is the beginning of the wrath of God upon Islam, then we should see in the coming weeks a continuation and expansion of that war. Sunni radicals from all over the world who have been excited and encourages by the ISIS blitzkrieg in Mosel and other places will continue to stream into ISIS ranks. But the other side will not roll over and die. Already Iran’s Shias are entering into Iraq to stem the ISIS Sunni advance, and the Iraq government is mounting a counter-offensive with Shia militia to reinforce the Army. Given the character of the ISIS leadership and the Shia militias there is little chance this will end in a negotiated settlement. It looks like this will be long campaign, something like the stalemated trench war in WWI that left both sided exhausted. In part it may also be a replay several instances in the Old Testament where the enemies of Israel turned on each other and annihilated each other out without Israel having to lift a finger.  
The mercy of God on Islam
But where is the mercy of God in the Sunni Shia War? We cannot precisely know now, but if it the wrath of God it must end in something spiritually good for the Arabs. That might be the collapse of Islam itself, just as the Nazi state disappeared, and the rise of Arab Christendom. [8]
This is a grad claim and speculation, and almost impossible to imagine.  But things are happening in the Arab and Muslim world that would have been inconceivable just a generation ago. There are mass conversions to Christianity that numbers in the millions. This is mostly hidden from the public because the conversions do not take place in huge rallies or public places like the typical Billy Graham service. Rather, conversions from Islam to Christianity happen mostly one person or family at a time, and in small group fellowships or in the privacy of their homes.
Two forces are driving this torrent of mass conversions. First, Jesus is appearing in dreams and visions among hundreds of thousands of Muslims, inviting them to believe in Him. The Muslims are not cessationists and understand that dreams and visions are spiritually significant. Thus when Jesus appears to them, they take note. The numbers of these vision and dream invitations is totally without precedent in the centuries of Islamic history. [9]
The second factor is electronic delivery of the Gospel via satellites and the internet. Arabs and Muslims, like all peoples, love multi-channel television. Satellite dishes have become ubiquitous all over the Islamic world, even in such places as Iran and Saudi Arabia where the proclamation of the Gospel is a capital offense. Dozens of Christian ministries have arisen which broadcast the Gospel throughout the Muslim world via satellite. The most famous and effective is that of the Coptic priest, Fr. Zacharias Botors, who has had up to sixty million viewer per broadcast. His downloadable and free Evangelical pamphlets are available wherever there is an internet connection.[10]
This brings us to the “operative” part of the blog. What can Christians do to hurry the conversion of the Islamic peoples to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Part of the answer is to support with finances the Evangelical ministries that are presently operating so effectively,  but the main part for every Christian and every church is prayer. The following are several suggested prayer focuses:
  • Pray the Sunni-Shia war be fully reported in the Muslim world, and that the Islamist atrocities, such as the ISIS mass executions of civilians and surrendered soldiers, bring a sense of disgust to many Muslims.
  • Pray that moderate Muslims everywhere begin to “connect the dots” and understand what they are seeing on the TV news. That Islam is an intrinsically violent religion and that the Koran cannot be the book of a loving God.
  • Pray that those who experience dreams and visions from the Lord will have the courage to obey His voice and accept Him as son of God.
  • Pray that the Christian satellite ministries all gain increasing favor and viewing among the Muslim people, but especially the Arabs.
  • Pray for the ongoing Christian awakenings that are breaking out in many Muslim nations.
  • Pray for the safety and multiplication of the Muslim “secret church” in its many locations.
  • Pray that the wrath of God in the Sunni Shia War will soon bear fruit in the mercy of God to the Muslim peoples.
    Announcement:

    The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.




    The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

    My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

    Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]



[1] My critics accuse me of being overly speculative in my theology. I agree. But on the other hand all theology is speculative. Orthodox theology, such as St. Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity was an initially speculative system that subsequently gained general approval.
[2] Norman Davies, God’s Play Ground, A History of Poland (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 124.

[3] Matthew Rose, “Karl Barth’s Failure,” First Things, June 2014, at: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/06/karl-barths-failure
[4] Reece Howells, a famous British missionary and intercessor, prayed fervently for a quick end to WWII and lamented the huge casualties it was producing in the Eastern Front. God answered that Russia too was being punished for its atrocities. See Norman Grubb, Rees Howell Intercessor (Lutterworth: Christian Literature Crusade, 1952).
[5] Of course, not immediately and not completely. About 1955 my brother dated a beautiful German girl who had come to the US right after the war. She had no repentance about the war and only lamented that Hitler did not take his own advice about not fighting a two front war.
[6] Garth Lean, Frank Buchmn: A Life (London: Constable, 1985), 360ff.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Rogenburg lecture, August 2006. Many in the Islamic world, which knows nothing of the prophetic element of criticism, went wild in demonstrations and riots over the Pope’s statements.
[8] In an important and prophetic work, George Otis, Jr., son of the pioneer of Christian radio and television to the Arab world, predicted Islam would cave in suddenly, just as Communism did. See  George Otis, Jr., The Last of the Giants (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1991).
[9] Tom Doyle, Dreams and Visions; Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim world? (Nashville :Thomas Nelson, 2012).
[10] For my blog posting on Fr. Botors’ incredible ministry see: http://anglicalpentecostal.blogspot.com/2013/07/fr-zakaria-botros-apostle-to-muslims.html