Like most people around the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about those 21 men who were murdered by ISIS on the beach in Tripoli. I can’t get the picture out of my mind, all of them in a row on their knees in the sand, their orange coveralls bright against their captors swathed in black.
I can’t help but try to put myself in their shoes in those final moments, as they were marched alongside the crashing surf and forced to kneel in the hot sand.
I can’t stop thinking about the cruel juxtaposition of that setting – a pristine beach, the roar of the sea and the brilliant sun the backdrop to 21 savage murders.
Since Sunday evening, my social media feed has been, by and large, a continual stream of images depicting those 21 men, along with hundreds of blog posts, status updates and tweets lamenting their tragic deaths. I join the Christian community in condemning this heinous crime and praying for the families and loved ones of these men.
Yet at the same time, I can’t help but wonder about the images I’m not seeing in my social media stream. The images of thousands of Shiites, Yazidi, agnostics and others who have died at the hands of ISIS. Why am I not seeing them, their faces, on Facebook and on Twitter? Why am I not hearing their stories among my Christian friends and peers?
I’ve read Ann Voskamp’s eloquent and convicting blog post several times since she published it on Tuesday, and I’ve thought a lot about what she wrote. In fact, her words – these in particular — have been ringing in my ears day and night:
“Everybody’s in — who opens the door with the key of the Cross.
Love wins — because the Cross wins. The Cross Wins.”
Ann’s words were written not only as a lament and an impassioned call to action, but also as a response to four words spoken to her on an airplane just a few days prior to the murder of the Egyptian Christians. A fellow traveler, glimpsing the Bible open on her lap, turned in his seat and declared to her, “Everybody’s in. Love wins.”
And so this is the question – questions, really – I’ve been turning around in my head since I read Ann’s post:
Am I not seeing the Shiite faces, the Yazidi faces, the agnostic faces in my social media stream because they’re not in?
And are they not in because they didn’t get the right key, the key of the Cross?
Are they not in because they did not walk through the narrow gate?
And is the way so narrow that it’s open only to so very few?
I know what Scripture says. I know Jesus tells me that he is the way and the truth and the life; that the only way to the Father is through him (John 14:6).
Yet let me tell you straight up, I struggle with this. I question it. I wrestle with it, bumping up against walls that feel constrictive, questioning how God’s love – so big, so deep, so wide, so incomprehensibly, infinitely awesome; a love from which nothing can ever separate us – can, at the same time, be so black-and-white, so seemingly limited, so “You’re in, you’re out, end of story.”
Many of those Shiites, Yazidi and agnostics stood up to injustice and were crucified, burned, beheaded, stoned, raped, tortured and thrown off of buildings for their courage and convictions. Did they endure these atrocities simply to plummet straight to hell?
There are only two possible answers to this question. Yet I have a hard time, knowing what I think I know about God and his love, believing the answer to this question is yes. “Yes, they went to hell, the end” frankly doesn’t seem to align with the unconditional love of God we read about again and again in the Gospels.
Do I really worship a god who created a child in Mosul who would live a life of poverty for 12 years before being gang raped and killed by ISIS, all in preparation to spend eternity in hell because she had never heard the gospel, or because her parents had raised her in the religious tradition in which they’d been raised, and in which their parents before them had been raised?
I pray to God himself that the answer to this question is no.
I sometimes wish I had the faith of someone like Ann Voskamp. I’m not saying that kind of faith is easier by any means, but it seems clearer and more confident than my wishy-washy, confused, muddied version of faith – which some would probably say is no faith at all.
The truth is, I have no answers. None. Jesus’ words in John 14:6 seem straight-forward, they seem black-and-white, they do. Yet who am I to know for sure what they truly mean? Who am I to say, unequivocally, “THIS is what Jesus means, the end”?
Maybe my desire for Jesus’ words to mean something more is simply my own wishful thinking.
Or maybe, like the man on the airplane declared to Ann Voskamp, everyone gets in; love wins.
Or maybe, as Ann declares, everyone’s in – who opens the door with the key to the Cross.
Maybe it’s something different entirely, something or some way none of us could ever possibly anticipate or imagine.
I don’t know. And honestly, I don’t like the not knowing. But somewhere deep in the not knowing is also my faith, that messy, wishy-washy, confused faith I claim.
The best I can do, it seems, is to remain confident in what I hope for and assured of what I cannot see.
To believe in my heart that God’s unfailing love for us is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
And for that to be enough.