I haven’t watched the videos. Or looked at the photos. And I don’t intend to. But my imagination is alive and well, and that’s enough.
A man trapped in a cage, watching as the flames approach. Every measure calculated to ensure he experiences the maximum amount of terror and pain for the longest possible period of time before dying.
Then the brazen broadcast to a gaping world, and we all react as expected, with shock and horror and disbelief that any human with a soul could perpetrate this kind of evil against another human.
We have a choice.
We can question God’s power and goodness. We can harden our hearts and shut our eyes and refuse to let it be about us. We can throw up our hands in despair and indulge our flesh to numb the pain. We can cheer for acts of retribution and stock our basements with food and firearms. We can surrender to terror and live in fear.
“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” ~ Malachi 3:13-15
Or we can stand squarely in the presence of the living God, who sees when a sparrow falls, and numbers the hairs on every head, and reigns sovereign over the affairs of men, and we can choose to see.
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” ~ Malachi 3:16-18
We can fear the Lord, building each other up in Him, even as we weep with those who weep.
Because He is working out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness. And He was there. In that cage. As surely as He was in the fiery furnace with Daniel’s friends. I don’t know if the Jordanian pilot knew Him or saw Him, but I know Jesus was there, willing to be seen and to give the grace that has enabled martyrs through the ages to sing even as the flames rose around them.
We will not fear, because the God who orders our days is with us — the same God who opened Stephen’s eyes to the truer true, where instead of seeing rage-filled faces and jagged stones, he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father. Instead of fear, he felt compassion and forgiveness for those whose hearts were darkened and filled with hate.
Evil has always been and — as long as this earth endures — always will be. But it will never win. Terrorists and tyrants have no authority except that which God allows for His kingdom purposes. It was true when Pilate condemned the Savior of the world to death on the cross, and it is true today.
We have a choice.
We can return hate for hate, or we can pray to a God who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, and ask Him to take even this extremity of evil and redeem it for good. We can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And when He calls us to suffer, we can be sure it is purposeful, and He will carry us in it with grace overwhelmingly, abundantly, and extravagantly sufficient.
Those who fear the Lord speak with one another, and heaven takes notes. He may not spare us from the flames, but He will spare us in the exact same way He spared His Son. And evil will again be the means of its own undoing.
This is what I will choose to see.