I don’t agree with everything Søren Kierkegaard wrote, but I do agree with this: “The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”
Napoleon Bonaparte is also not my go-to guy for great quotations, but he made a great point when he said, “It is the cause, not the death, that makes the martyr.” Some people die for what’s misguided. Others die, even without forewarning, in the normal pursuit of what’s true and good.
There’s one person I always agree with, and He said this: “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted” (Jesus, Matthew 5:11-12).
However, that God will reward His people for their faithfulness in life and in death doesn’t minimize the pain of people being killed for their faith, or for anything else. Like most of you, I was stunned and heartbroken to hear about the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas this past Sunday. Our prayers go out to the victims’ families and all those who were impacted by this senseless act of violence. (Here are some powerful words shared on national television by a pastor ministering to this suffering church.)
Last Sunday also happened to be the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a global day of intercession for persecuted Christians worldwide. The Texas shooting was a horrific glimpse of the persecution and violence that our brothers and sisters in Christ experience. And just as our fellow believers can’t be persuaded to abandon their faith because of persecution, such violence in our own churches won’t stop us from gathering and proclaiming and celebrating the Good News of Jesus. Russell Moore said it well in this excellent article:
Why church shootings don’t intimidate the Church
By Russell Moore
While millions of other Christians were singing hymns or opening their Bibles or taking communion this past Sunday, at that very moment, a gunman was opening fire on the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tex. This, believed to be the largest church shooting in history, ended with at least 26 people killed, according to authorities.
Several children were among the fallen, including Pastor Frank Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter Annabelle. Whatever the shooter’s twisted objective might have been, we do know this: it won’t work.
The goal the gunman sought, to terrorize worshipers, has been attempted constantly over the centuries around the world by cold, rational governments and terrorist groups—all thinking that they could, by the trauma of violence, snuff out churches, or at least intimidate those churches into hiding from one another. Such violent tactics always end up with the exact opposite of what the intimidators intend: a resilient church that, if anything, moves forward with even more purpose than before. Why?
Whether they are crazed loners in the United States or jihadist cells in Syria or governing councils in the old Soviet bloc, these forces fundamentally misunderstand the source of Christianity’s strength in the first place. Killers assume, after all, that gunfire or poison gas or mass beheadings will show Christians how powerless we are. That is true. They assume that this sense of powerlessness will rob the community of its will to be the church. That is false.
I also appreciated John Piper’s reflections in Acquainted with Grief: How God Draws Near to Sutherland Springs. And here’s a related video discussion I shared after the 2015 Charleston church murder, How Could a Good God Allow Suffering and Evil?
Further resources that might be helpful:
If God Is Good, Why Do We Hurt? (booklet)
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.