Save the Children
Two days before the Paris attacks, a good friend, Dr. Fadi, spent several hours in our home. He and his wife enjoyed listening to my wife tell one of her simple, yet thought provoking parables which goes like this:
There was a man who decided to invest in a beautiful aquarium which became his pride and joy. One day he came home to find his beloved fish in grave danger from a predator – a huge, sinister snake was poised on the edge of the fish tank intent on devouring its occupants. The horrified man rushed to the rescue. The snake was now in the water so he dived head first into the fish tank! Wait a minute. That's not what happened. The man was too big! Doing this would shatter the fish tank and the fish would die. No, no, no. The man rushed across the room and plunged his arm into the fish tank. Grabbing the snake by the neck, he threw it to the ground and stamped it to death. It took a few days for him to recover from the painful fang bite in his heel but he regretted nothing. His beloved fish were saved!
The fish tank story prompted Fadi to ask a question which a patient had recently asked him. The patient, a 6 year old rape victim, asked, “Where was God when I was attacked? Why didn't he rescue me? Will God ensure that those who committed this crime are punished?”
Fadi asked how I would answer those questions and as the discussion got deeper, he reminded me to keep it simple so that a child could understand. Let me try to summarize our conversation including some thoughts I wrote in a letter.
Let me begin by saying that children are capable of grasping the basic meaning of the fish tank story. A child can understand 1) that the owner represents God who made a beautiful world and placed Adam and Eve in the garden as his pride and joy, and 2) that God loved Adam and Eve. The Bible tells us that he enjoyed walking and talking with them. This correlates with how the owner of the fish tank loved his fish and took pleasure in watching them every day.
Children can appreciate that love prompts God to rescue humans, similar to the way that the aquarium owner rescued his beloved fish. Also, it is not difficult to understand that in both stories the villain is a serpent. The Bible describes how God cursed the serpent because he enticed Adam and Eve to sin. In fact, the Bible informs us that God foretold the serpent would eventually suffer a fatal blow to his head trampled underfoot by a heroic figure – an offspring of the woman.
So who is the villain, the arch-enemy of the human race? Is it not Satan, who worked through the serpent to accomplish his evil purpose? Again, it seems obvious that children are able to understand that the serpent represents Satan.
I wasn't sure how familiar my friend was with the Bible, but Fadi seemed to have no problem understanding that from beginning to end, it portrays Satan as one who does evil and seeks to destroy people. Jesus called Satan the murderer from the beginning (John 8:42). Then in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Satan is called that ancient serpent, the Destroyer (Revelation 12:9; 9:11). However, Christians are not the only ones who believe Satan is the arch enemy of mankind.
As a Muslim, Fadi had no problem agreeing with me. According to the Biblical and Quranic account of man's fall from innocence, God Almighty pronounced a curse on Satan. We read in Genesis 3:14-15,
Then the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, grovelling in the dust as long as you live. And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
In these verses God foretells the day when a male offspring of the woman will strike a deadly blow to the head of the Serpent. It is not difficult to see similarities between this prophecy and the parable of the fish tank. Let us see how this rescue theme unfolds.
God the Rescuer
Christians with even a basic knowledge of the Bible know the prophets promised that God would send his Messiah as a mighty rescuer. As it is written, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me, I will make you a light to the Gentiles and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) A few chapters later Isaiah described how things became so bad that “anyone who renounces evil is attacked. The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm...” (Isaiah 59:15-16)
On the one hand, God himself saves with his right arm, yet it is also clear God brings his salvation through the Messiah. One may ask, “Does God have a physical arm?” Obviously this expression is a metaphor; it doesn't mean God has a literal arm like human beings. The imagery of an arm conveys the idea of God exerting his mighty power. It simply means God saves by means of his servant, the Messiah. Incidentally, both the Qur'an and the Bible use this kind of figure of speech, whereby something human is attributed to God, e.g. seeking the face of God. We should bear in mind, however, that Scripture calls the Messiah Emmanuel, meaning God with us (more on this later).
The fish tank parable aptly illustrates how God rescues by means of his arm of salvation. It makes sense that the owner would use his arm instead of jumping into the fish tank with his entire body.
Isaiah 49:24-26 provides another clue showing how the Messiah will fulfil this rescue plan. Notice this prophecy specifies God will save children. Verse 24 poses a seemingly impossible dilemma, “Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce?” to which God replies, “I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.” As horrifying as this judgement may seem, it has a positive impact, “Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:24-26, NIV, bold font added for emphasis)
Gruesome picture has positive ending
This awful scenario whereby God causes his enemies to slaughter one another is a recurring theme in Scripture (Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20; 2 Chronicles 20:23; Ezekiel 38:21-23; Revelation 6:4). This gruesome picture gives thoughtful readers reason to ponder, “Is this prophecy relevant to our times, especially in the Middle East where we are seeing sectarian feuding and bloodshed tear the Ummah apart?” (Muslim community) [For more details see endnote.]
Although God's judgements are awful, they have a positive outcome, as verse 26 explains: Then all mankind will realize that the Lord is the Mighty One of Jacob, the Savior, Redeemer. As a matter of fact, there is a growing awareness across the world today, that the one true God, is indeed, Savior and Redeemer.
David Garrison examines the evidence in his book, A Wind in the House of Islam, showing that in recent years there has been an unprecedented turning to Christ as Savior among Muslims. He adds, “one of the greatest recurring motivations for Muslims coming to Christ” is the widespread violence they see in their societies (p. 58). Indeed, the deepening bloodshed in the Middle East is giving added momentum to this trend as illustrated by this recent story out of Germany. The Associated Press tells of a church in Berlin that has grown from 150 people three years ago to 600 in September 2015. Most of these new members are former Muslims.
Isaiah specifically mentioned saved children so let us briefly look at some examples showing how the Messiah, fulfilled this prophecy. John 4:46-54 tells us how Jesus saved a boy who was terribly sick, close to dying. In Luke 9:37-43 we read of a boy who was helpless in the grip of a tormenting demon. The disciples were not able to cast the demon out and so Jesus had to free him from the grip of this fierce enemy.
What does this mean for the sexually abused 6 year old boy? Jesus is able cure the worst kind of sickness but he can also overpower the strongest evil force on earth - the Devil himself, as we will see just now.
Rescuing people held captive by Satan
Christ's ability to free people who were bound by demons correlates with Isaiah 49:24-26. We read in Matthew 12:22-29 how Jesus miraculously enabled a blind and mute man who was bound by the Devil to see and speak! Most of those watching praised God but the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of accomplishing this amazing feat by the power of Satan! In response, Christ posed a question very similar to the one in Isaiah 49. He asked, “who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger – someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.” If you are unfamiliar with this story, I suggest you read the whole paragraph explaining what prompted Jesus to ask this question (Matthew 12:22-29).
There is an interesting parallel to our own times, especially in relation to Muslim extremists like ISIS and Al Qaeda who justify what they do by quoting the Qur'an. They may portray themselves as being very religious, but the fact is, they are inspired by Satan! Moderate Muslims dissociate themselves from these radicals and even hate them. Notice Haroon Moghul's scathing rebuke against radical Muslims evoked by the Paris attacks as published on CNN. His intense feelings are not unlike the deep anger Jesus Christ felt when he accused the Jewish leaders of being murderous, “like your father the Devil.” (John 8:44)
Another Scripture that sheds light on Isaiah's prophecy in chapter 49 is Psalm 83. Isaiah assures God's people that he will contend with their enemies. In a similar way, the Psalmist asks God to deliver his people by crushing their enemies. Notice the nations listed in this Psalm are part of what we call the Muslim world today. He prays that divine judgement will cause them to “seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame … that they may know that you alone whose name is the LORD [Yahweh], are the Most High over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:16-18, ESV)
Notice a basic similarity between this Psalm and Isaiah 49:24-26, especially verse 26 which explains the outcome of God's judgement, “Then all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (compare Isaiah 45:21-13)
Think about these divine attributes Savior and Redeemer. God alone is powerful to save, but other (false) gods cannot save. This implies that God's saving power resonates with tawhid – the very cornerstone of Islamic theology. This attribute also correlates with the dramatic rescue stories of Moosa and Yunus as portrayed in the Qur'an (Surah 2:50; 37:139-144).
Considering that Islam claims to be a continuation of the prophets, would you not expect to find the name Savior among the 99 beautiful (and prestigious) names of Allah? But it isn't, why not? I suggested to Fadi that we need to discuss this more.
As we proceed from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament we continue seeing significant parallels between the Qur'an and the Bible. The most remarkable example is the story of Christ's miraculous virgin birth. There are several similarities between the Biblical and Qur'anic accounts but two are especially important; 1) The vital, if mysterious, role of the Holy Spirit in explaining how the baby was conceived in Mary's womb. 2) The fact that God himself chose the name for Mary's special son and revealed it through his angel. The name Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew, Isa in the Qur'an) means God is salvation which correlates perfectly with Isaiah's prophecy in chapter 49 verse 6 (see p. 77, Islamic Names [revised Edition] by Muhammad I. A. Usman).
Let us consider how this meaning is reflected in Christ's actions and personality. As baby Jesus grew to be an adult, more clues come to light, confirming what Isaiah foretold, i.e. that his mission was to bring God's salvation to the world. How then did Christ reflect God's saving power in his actions and personality? This can be answered on two levels – physically and spiritually. Jesus performed miraculous physical signs which showed saving power, i.e. God's salvation. He healed terminally ill people thus saving them physically from the brink of death. Not only so, Christ raised the dead – those who were, in effect, already in the grip of death. This is clearly taught in both the Qur'an and Bible.
Notice also that Jesus made a powerful impact on sinners, radically changing their lives (Luke 19:1-10, NIV). We see this in the story of Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner, which concludes with Jesus saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” The word 'save' shows that Jesus believed his name reflected his mission.
John chapter four also illustrates how Jesus saved lost people. This passage tells how Jesus met a Samaritan woman who came to draw water at the well of Sychar. You will notice how she responded when Jesus gently but firmly exposed her sin. Initially, she tried to hide from the truth but then admitted to having a series of illicit relations with five men. Amazingly, this story ends with many people from her village believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world!
The fact that Jesus saves people from sin, is not only evident in these stories, it is embedded in the story of his birth (Matthew 1:21). Indeed, it is rooted in Messianic prophecies as revealed seven hundred years earlier (Isaiah 53).
The Biblical description of Jesus as Savior calls to mind a question we raised earlier, “Does God HIMSELF save or does he save BY MEANS OF his Messiah?” When Christians choose the latter, Muslims accuse us of having two Saviors, which, they are quick to point out is strictly forbidden in Isaiah 43:10-13.
This supposed dilemma of having two distinctly different Saviors is resolved by realizing that Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning God with us (Matthew 1:21-23). He demonstrated his fundamental likeness to (and equality with) God in various ways. In fact he said, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
I concluded my follow up letter to Fadi admitting that if I tried to address this issue, I would risk making the letter too long, which it already was. So I suggested that we continue our conversation over another cup of tea.
One might ask, “What about modern rescue efforts?”
A google search reveals dozens of organizations that are helping to save children from malnutrition, slavery and sexual abuse. A significant number of them are inspired by the love of Jesus Christ and by Biblical teaching to advocate for and intervene on behalf of orphans, vulnerable children and victims of violence, etc. However, whether or not the rescuers are Christian, it is ultimately God who is at work accomplishing his good purposes behind the scene.
On the evening when Fadi visited our home, he showed me a quote on a friend's blog which throws light on the difficult question, “Why doesn't God always immediately intervene and rescue?” Although the quote does not mention God, it does imply that God has a long-term in view. Sometimes he allows us to suffer, knowing “the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” These words are not unlike the familiar Bible verse, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, HCSB)
This is illustrated in the well known story of the Exodus. The Hebrew slaves were rescued out of Egypt, but not before they had suffering a lot and cried out to God for a long time. Other examples that show the value of being patient under suffering are the stories of Job and Joseph. Each of these stories teach us that we ought to trust God to intervene at the right time. It is also significant to notice that when God finally did act, he was not unjust.
Speaking of justice, brings to mind the question which Fadi asked at the beginning, as posed by the 6 year old rape victim, “Will God punish those who committed this crime?”
A partial answer to this can be seen in the websites as listed in the appendix. Notice especially, the International Justice Mission which fights to free children who suffer sexual abuse at the hands of human traffickers.
However, at a foundational level, it is also helpful to answer this question by looking carefully at the Exodus story. It shows very clearly that God does punish evil. Look at what happened to the hard-hearted Pharaoh along with any Egyptians who refused to heed God's command through Moses to sacrifice a Passover Lamb. Countless first-born Egyptian sons throughout the country died on that fateful night, including Pharaoh's son. In fact, this 10th plague marked the turning point in this epic rescue story whereby God saved the lives of thousands of children, i.e. first-born sons of the Israelites.
Of course this story points to the Messiah as the ultimate Passover Lamb. Jesus Christ fulfils the promise spoken through Abraham, that God will provide the Lamb. (Genesis 22:7, see also Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29) In the final analysis, the Lamb wins the victory over Satan as seen in Revelation 12:10-11 and Revelation chapter 19.
Relevant further reading
Here are three relevant articles which are available online. The first one, entitled, Is the Savior necessarily God?
The second one is entitled, Jesus Saves Exactly the Way God Saves – Since Jesus is God Incarnate!
The third article is, God our Savior, Redeemer.
J. Alec Motyer explains Isaiah 49:24-26 on page 369 in his commentary on Isaiah, as follows,
Maybe "eating their own flesh" and "drinking their own blood" draws on a picture of siege conditions with cannibalism as the last resort against starvation. But the reality is that those who choose their own way, are in the end self-destructive, and it is part of the divine justice which rules the world to effect this outcome. [bold font added for emphasis.]
As a matter of fact, in the last half of the 20th century, 11 million Muslims suffered violent deaths, of which 90% were caused by Muslim-on-Muslim violence (see statistics3). Indeed, this trend has intensified over the last year (2014-15), in the wake of a resurgent radical Islam, e.g. groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, not forgetting the Iranian regime which continues threatening to wipe Israel off the map.
The recent Paris terrorist attack (13/11/2015) provoked Haroon Moghul to write a scathing rebuke published on CNN against radical Muslims, in which he states that “ISIS isn't just at war with much of the world,” they are “at war with how Muslims understand Islam. And let me be clear here: They represent a mortal danger to Islam.”
However, this danger is not new. For many decades, even centuries, Muslim extremists (and opposing factions) have drawn the battle lines with blood! Professor of Political Science, Salim Mansur, emphasized this in an article entitled, The Mark of Cain. He strongly warns fellow Muslims not to always blame others but, instead, acknowledge “their responsibility in making their own grim history.”
Some websites and articles showing many initiatives around the world involved in saving children
It is appropriate that the first four URLs highlight the kidnapping of children and women by ISIS and Boko Haram which have recently evoked worldwide shock and outrage.
The story of Steve Maman (inspired by Oscar Schindler)
The story of Khaleel al-Dakhi, who helps women escape Isil.
This article summarizes a report saying Boko Haram has overtaken ISIS as world's deadliest terror group
Tells the story of unsung hero, Nicholas Winton, who saved hundreds from concentration camps
Tells how unsung heroes protected countless children from last year’s devastating Oklahoma tornadoes. Save the Children Says
Nonprofit Marks Solemn Anniversary, Urges All Americans to Protect Kids from Disaster
Tells the story of unsung heroes who rescue children in Delhi, India
Tells the story of Ty Ritter founder of Project Child Save
Save the Children claims to be the world's leading independent organisation for children. They work in around 120 countries. They save children's lives and fight for their rights...