6. The Strategy of the Saviour
In AD 70, the imperial power of its day, through the sovereign direction of God, turned on the regime it had supported in murdering the Saviour. At this juncture it is pertinent to state that just because the present global power - America - is seen by most Muslims as backing the regime oppressing Muslims and Christians, it does not follow that this will always be the case. From a supernaturalist viewpoint, it is quite possible that the power of the Saviour will transform its attitudes and policies leading America to confront such oppression. Moreover, it must be remembered that this has happened before, and this leads us to consider the strategy of the Saviour.
It is clear that the Occultation and then the manifestation of the Shia Saviour follows a clear strategy – firstly of protecting the Imam from assassination, secondly of his return in supernatural glory to battle his enemies, the Sufyani, the Dajjal and all oppressors. Similarly, the Biblical Saviour’s return has an analogous strategy- His coming completes His victory over Satan, and the Final Judgement ensues. It follows therefore that the followers of the Saviour, whether in Islamic or Christian perspectives, should also be guided by the Saviour in their struggles against oppression, and act with a conscious, workable strategy.
Khomeini, frequently recalling the sacrificial example of Hussein, had a definite strategy in Iranian Revolution. Essentially, the revolutionary jihad was an act of ‘people power’ through popular mobilisation: ‘Thousands of people died in the last months of the Shah’s regime, but they were mainly unarmed demonstrators, not guerrillas.’ A modern Western convert to Islam comments on Khomeini’s strategy in this regard:
For Imam Khomeini not only reinstituted the proper goals of a true revolution, he also defined the means: those of non-violence and the faith of an entire people in the power of martyrdom.
The most typical example of this new method was his attitude towards the army, in which the Shah had believed he possessed an invincible power, and the ‘immortal ones’ in his guard. Imam Khomeini had a different conception of power. He had the audacity to see it, not in arms, but in the inner conscience … of the soldiers. All his directives during the time of confrontation were inspired by these principles: ‘Do not attack the breasts of the soldiers, but their hearts.’ Desertions multiplied.
This non-violence, like that of Gandhi against the most powerful military and economic force of the day, was to bear fruit… It is thus that unarmed people would prevail over such a renowned and powerful army.
Similarly, Evangelical Christians have sought to extend the Kingdom of God by confronting and resisting oppression by non-violent means. The most obvious example of this is very relevant for British Christians in this year of 2007 – the abolition of slavery. It was Evangelical Christians under William Wilberforce who led a campaign of political lobbying, electoral intervention and popular boycotts of slavery products which led to the abolition of the slave trade in Britain in 1807 and of slavery throughout the Empire in 1833.
This was despite the obvious financial benefits to the British economy of slavery, and even purported security aid that the trade generated. Likewise, American Christians were in the vanguard of the fight against slavery in their country, and in both Britain and America, long the worst practitioners and sponsors of slavery in the West, became the most aggressive opponents of this oppression often obliging other countries, such as Brazil in 1885, to abandon slavery.
Perhaps this example should be instructive to the burgeoning Arab and Muslim communities in the West. Together with people from other communities, they could use their electoral numbers to mount an effective lobbying campaign against the oppression of their brothers in Lebanon and Palestine. The election of anti-war candidates in Britain and the largest rally in British history – two million people – against the Iraq war and for Palestinian liberty demonstrates the practical potential for this. What is lacking is a clear strategy - and the example of the Saviour in both Christian and Shia perspectives demonstrates the need for this.
What has guided Evangelicals in such campaigns is their belief in the self-sacrifice of the Saviour, His present reign and the desire to see His Return. In 2 Peter 3:12 Christians are urged to be ‘looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God’, i.e. the Second Coming of Christ. Christians are meant to ‘labour and strive’ for ‘godliness’ because ‘we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of believers’, 1 Timothy 4:8-10, and we remember that He is in Heaven, ‘from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’, Philippians 3:20, and thus are ‘looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Christ Jesus’, Titus 2:13. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper demonstrates how Christians unite the functions of Hussein and the Mahdi in their Saviour, because it not only reminds them of His death, but also of His return, since they practise it ‘until He comes’, 1 Corinthians 11:26. Thus, the Lord’s Supper every Sunday gives Christians solace, both in terms of comfort and in terms of the expectation of Christ’s Return.
There are surprising analogies between the solace that Mahdist expectation gives Muslims and that which Messianic expectation gives Christians. The issue of solace in all its aspects - above all, the encouragement to prepare the way for the coming of the Saviour – is a neglected factor in Western studies of religion, largely perhaps because of the post-religious character of especially European academic discourse and its presuppositions.
Atheists and people who marginalise God simply cannot understand the idea of faith as a power to motivate people to endure oppression, and even to conquer it. This is what was so difficult for many Westerners to comprehend about the Iranian Revolution. Similarly, by all normal considerations, a few thousand poorly-armed guerrillas in Lebanon should not have been able to resist and beat the strongest military power in the Middle East, but Hezbollah did it twice. What commentators fail to notice was the power of expectation of the Saviour in motivating people in both contexts in their jihad.
Evangelical Protestants do not have a physical equivalent to jihad, but the New Testament reveals a spiritual analogy, whereby their prayers against Satan overcome him, Ephesians 6:10ff. This spiritual warfare undoubtedly helped cause the collapse of oppressive, atheistic Communism in Europe. After that collapse thriving congregations of Evangelical Protestants came to public notice, a testament to the power and solace of the Saviour in the face of oppression.
Finally, we come back to the question of tears. Women shed tears as Jesus was taken to be crucified, Luke 23:27, just as Shia shed tears for the Passion of Hussein. However, Jesus warned the women to cry for themselves, since the Judgment on Jerusalem would follow (in AD 70), v30 ‘Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “fall on us”, and to the hills, “cover us.”’. This is repeated in Revelation 6:16, where in answer to a prayer for justice and vengeance from the martyrs, v10, the terrible divine judgement fell on Jerusalem, described as ‘the wrath of the Lamb’, v16. On the other hand, the promise of God to oppressed Christians is that following the Second Coming of Christ, God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’, Revelaiton 21:4 (cf. 7:17). Similarly, Shia hold that the injustice of the oppression and murder suffered by Hussein and his entourage will be avenged by the coming of the Awaited Saviour. Christians and Muslim alike in Lebanon and Palestine are awaiting their Saviour to return and liberate them. People everywhere who suffer oppression cry out for the Saviour to come and deliver them, just as oppressors should fear His coming. May God hasten His appearance!
©Dr Anthony McRoy, London, 2007