The cheese steak hoagie I had for dinner makes me wonder why I eat well while people in Burundi, where my brother preached, have beans and cabbage every day. The torching of Christian churches in Syria and Iraq makes me wonder why I get to sit in safety here in Pennsylvania. God is no respecter of persons and He loves all His children, so why does He treat us differently?
The question sparked a mental chain reaction through the Bible. First stop, 2,500 years ago in a secret communiqué from a man at the king’s gate to the chamber of Queen Esther: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
I like the combination of the “Who knows” and the unabashed Godward speculation. Mordecai was too humble to say so, but if Esther came to the kingdom for such a time as this, then Mordecai came to the kingdom for such a time as this too. The one who lights the fire under Esther is surely as strategically placed as Esther.
Is it only Esther—and a few key people like Moses and David and Jesus—whom God has had born in the precise century and precise location He desires? The New Testament shows it is not: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27).
So then God sets the times and dwelling places of all men, not just some “important” men. Not only so, but He discloses the reason: to enhance the possibility of each individual to “seek God” and “perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” Consider the height and depth and length and breadth of the kindness of God! “Not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), He goes to much trouble to maximize each person’s likelihood to come to Him for salvation.
Back to my cheese steak hoagie question, and the harassing of believers in the Middle East vis-à-vis this writer’s comfort in America. To borrow Mordecai’s phrase, “Who knows” whether God foreknew which individuals would be able to handle persecution without renouncing the faith, and which individuals would buckle if they were pushed too hard? And who knows whether He carefully measured out our sufferings, with tailor-made trials for each believer, “if necessary” (1 Peter 1:6), according to His promise not to let us be tempted beyond our ability (1 Corinthians 10:13)?
Is this not gracious to both—to the one, affording the opportunity for martyrdom and a martyr’s reward (“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life,” Hebrews 11:35); to the other, affording a heaven he might have lost if he had not kept the faith to the end (Hebrews 2:6)?
I look in the mirror and see that I was given neither great beauty nor unusual deformity of features. It is a very good thing on both counts. If I had the one, pride would lead me to the dens of sin; if I had the other, pride would keep me locked in my room for fear of venturing out. If I were more intelligent, would I be a better person? Not.
A wise man once wrote, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9). That man knew the heart’s proclivities, and knew the Lord is master over environments as well as hearts.
Evidently there are people in Iraq who can bear up under persecution. It is an honor. Peter and the apostles got excited “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Already the storm clouds gather over our own nation, and the mettle of many will be tested. Brethren, who knows whether we were born in America for such a time as this?