Agrowth-inspiring experience of a lifetime is to walk among the artifacts of empires, civilizations, and societies that have lived and died and, in many respects, shaped our world. For those of us living in the United States, a relatively young country, touring abroad can impart a fresh, transforming perspective. For Christians, standing before the judgment seat in ancient Corinth, where Paul likely stood accused before the Roman proconsul Gallio, or climbing the steps to Mars Hill in Athens, where he shattered the philosophers’ folly of worshiping many gods, is a breathtaking revelation of what has gone before.
Spiritually, experiencing Israel and its crowded bazaars; the Garden Tomb; Gethsemane; Nazareth; Bethlehem; and Jerusalem, with its Temple Mount and adjacent Western Wall, instills a sense of quiet awe. Within the confines of tiny Israel, every life-changing aspect of the believers existence transpired. History and faith come alive in an inescapable fashion, and true Christians come away changed. Humility, reverence, perspective, discernment, certainty, devotion, mission, and appreciation for the Book and its people inescapably tug the heartstrings of believer pilgrims.
MARKED FOR DESTRUCTION
However, if the hordes of the Islamic State (ISIS) sweeping through much of the Middle East have their way, every vestige of the past will be destroyed. Every archaeological relic that bears witness to the ingenuity, skill, and sheer genius of the ancients will be obliterated.
For more than 1,400 years, the monastery of St. Elijah near the city of Mosul, Iraq, stood as one of the most ancient Christian sanctuaries in the country. In the summer of 2014, ISIS fanatics razed it and claimed another triumph in its quest to establish a global caliphate (Islamic religious-political state) and wipe out all evidence in Iraq of the 2,000-year-old presence of followers of Jesus. Not only do they want to destroy the evidence of a culture they hate, they want to purge areas of Christian conquest, as well.
In 2003 there were reportedly 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today, fewer than 300,000 remain.1 Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institutes Center for Religious Freedom, observed,
ISIS set about eradicating every trace of the Christians, even the silent stones of their now forlorn monasteries, due to its sacramentalized hatred of “infidels.” . . . This ideological hatred encompasses all of Nineveh’s Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, as well as its Yazidi community. And, alarmingly, it is being indoctrinated into the next generation with school textbooks that direct children to hate and kill the Nazarenes, that is, the Christians, and the Yazidis, condemned as “polytheists” and “devil worshippers,” respectively.2
UNDERSTANDING THE CALIPHATE
Under the revisionist, politically correct policy of offending no one, apologists claim belligerent radicalism is isolated—that it is restricted to aggrieved elements of society settling the score with people who mistreated them. Great care is taken to eliminate radicalized religion as a significant component of terrorism. Discounting religion, however, is fatal because religion is essential to understanding ISIS’ nature and its rules of engagement.
Perhaps ISIS’ most revealing atrocity is its systematic destruction of libraries and its massive book burnings.
The late al-Qaeda leader Yussuf al-Ayyeri, an intimate associate of terrorist Osama bin Laden, summarized the ultimate goal of caliphate devotees in his book The Future of Iraq and The Arabian Peninsula After The Fall of Baghdad.
Writer Amir Taheri said the book claims, “As far as belief is concerned, the absolutely final version is represented by Islam, which ‘annuls all other religions and creeds.’ Thus Muslims can have only one goal: converting all humanity to Islam and ‘effacing the final traces of all other religions, creeds and ideologies.’”3
Taheri also said the point of the book is to teach that “it is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy.”4
Obviously, all Muslims do not adhere to ISIS ideology. Those who do are as eager to destroy mosques and kill non-compliant Muslims as they are to kill Christians, Jews, and other dissenters. Wrote Kareem Shaheen in theguardian.com,
Yet the damage wreaked by Isis, not just on ancient monuments but also on rival Muslim places of worship, has been far more extensive. . . . It destroyed the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul. Isis has also attacked Shia places of worship and last year gave Mosuls Christians an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death by the sword.5
The goal for the Islamic caliphate is first to rule the Arabian Peninsula, then to move westward, destroying democracies and all related political, spiritual, social, and cultural institutions and ways of life. If successful, it then would institute Muslim Sharia law universally as the only legal system for all surviving subjects.
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To achieve this caliphate, its devotees use lethal brutality and destroy churches, shrines, and significant religious artifacts or evidences of competing faiths. They also loot valuable artifacts and sell them to enhance their weapons arsenals. They seduce young recruits around the world, teaching them to commit random acts of terrorism in their own countries or abroad to spread fear and intimidation, making clear their global endgame.
Perhaps ISIS’ most revealing atrocity is its systematic destruction of libraries and its massive book burnings. All totalitarian systems, like Nazism, feel constrained to deprive people of access to information that might expose their fallacies and barbarism.
DESTINED TO FAIL
In the end, as with all who have gone before, the merchants of terror eventually will fail. Knocking down walls, destroying ancient temples, and jackhammering artifacts from sanctuaries in an attempt to destroy a faith are futile. Faith does not depend on stone and mortar to survive. Scripture makes that fact clear:
God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands [emphasis added]. Nor is He worshiped with mens hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things (Acts 17:2425).
No one can dethrone the Almighty. Faith in Jesus Christ is God-ordained. And no one will ever discover His remains by digging among ancient tombs. God’s Word tells us His whereabouts:
To achieve this caliphate, its devotees use lethal brutality and destroy churches, shrines, and significant religious artifacts or evidences of competing faiths.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son [Jesus], whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high [emphasis added] (Heb. 1:13).
When we worship the Savior, we do so in a sphere that despots and unbelievers cannot comprehend. Radical Islamists boast that peace will come only when Islam has subdued the world through murder and brutal conquest. But the future holds, not a caliphate, but a Kingdom established by the King of kings and Lord of lords—the only true God of peace—who will mete out divine justice when the time is right.
His is the global Kingdom anticipated 2,000 years ago when Jesus disciples cried, “‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk. 19:38).
When religious objectors called for a rebuke, Jesus replied, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (v. 40).
Perhaps the stones being razed from ancient sanctuaries, stained by the blood of modern Christian martyrs, are crying out today, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”
1 Nina Shea, ”Another irreplaceable loss for Christianity: ISIS destroys ancient Iraqi monastery,” Foxnews.com, January 20, 2016 <tinyurl.com/zqmbx53>.
3 Amir Taheri,” Commentary: Al-Qaidas Agenda for Iraq,” UPI.com, September 6, 2003 <tinyurl.com/hh6kuvs>.
5 Kareem Shaheen, “Isis attacks on ancient sites erasing history of humanity, says Iraq,” theguardian.com, March 9, 2015 <tinyurl.com/oto2jwk>.
Elwood McQuaid is a former executive director of The Friends of Israel and retired editor-in-chief of Israel My Glory.