God Did Not Play Favorites
by Susanna Fan
Seven months after the 2004 Tsunami, my husband and I landed in Sri Lanka to help the rebuilding effort on the East Coast of that country. We got to know the host missionaries, and since that time, we have continued to communicate with them, being kept updated on the situation and keeping them in our prayers.
The bombings that took place on Easter morning this year in Sri Lanka grieved me greatly, for there was so much damage and so many casualties. My prayers for them didn’t seem to do much good, and praying for their recovery felt almost hollow. I questioned if it even mattered that I prayed. Didn’t these people dress in their best attire to attend the glorious Easter Sunday services? Weren’t they worshipping the resurrected Lord when the bombs went off?
Throughout the world, in many underground churches, the police break down doors and drag people off to prison who are worshipping or having Bible studies. As much as I understand that God is still in charge, and that He brings sunshine and rain to the just and the unjust, I am trying to come to terms with what is happening around the world with believers under persecution.
Only two weeks after the bombings in Sri Lanka, I stood in my church sanctuary in the Bay Area of California at a Friday night worship meeting. At first, I was getting myself into worship by leaving all other thoughts aside. But I couldn’t help thinking about the believers in Sri Lanka. I argued silently in my head: Weren’t the believers there doing exactly what we were doing that evening, when they heard the blast of the bombs, then watched their loved ones die or lose their limbs? Only hours earlier, I had read these words from the host missionaries from Sri Lanka who are back in the States for the wife’s cancer treatment:
“The church in Batticaloa which was bombed is only about 20 miles from where we live and work. We know the preacher there but not any members personally, although Shanthi’s sister, who immigrated here 3 years ago, was a member of that church. She knew people who had died and were injured and some lost limbs. Slowly as reports began to come out, we found out more of the story. 39 dead and 25 of those were Sunday school children. Assistant pastors and their families were killed; the senior pastor was away on a trip at the time.”
At this point, I couldn’t take my mind off the believers in Sri Lanka anymore. When the brothers and sisters at the worship meeting in my church shared how God had freed them from bondage and saved them from harm, I questioned God! Was He was playing favorites with His children? Twenty-five innocent Sunday school kids! Weren’t they precious to You? Isn’t Your house a sanctuary for Your people, not just in America but all around the globe? They lost their lives for what? Just because some Islamic radicals thought killing innocent people indiscriminately will glorify “Allah”? I was in a tumult inside, desperately wanting to hear God’s voice telling me He had His purpose in all the violence. I heard nothing!
I wanted so much to tell my church that there are believers like us halfway around the world who are suffering much loss of life and could possibly lose their faith in such horrific circumstances, but I didn’t want to dampen the atmosphere of the worship meeting. Many brothers and sisters in America had heard of the bombings but didn’t seem to have much concern for things that happened in a distant land. However, we as Christians need to be living out verses such as these:
“...if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
“...may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
“...we should love one another” (1 John 3:11).
Without criticizing, I want to bring more awareness to my fellow Christians (and to myself as well) of the need to pay attention to other parts of the world, for the sake of those who suffer so much. What can I do when the turmoil continues inside me? I can only look back to the cross where God left His only Son hanging for the world’s sins that Jesus did not commit. God did not play favorites. When it came to choices, He picked us! He didn’t even spare His own Son to save those who put Jesus to death.
Of course, this doesn’t answer all my questions. But because of God’s lavish love for us, I see that everyone is precious to Him—whether the kids in Sri Lanka, the house church leaders in China, the converted Muslims in Islamic countries, or parishioners in America. So what can I do? God drew me to 2 Timothy 3:1–16, where God, knowing things would get worse, forewarned us through Paul’s instruction to Timothy telling us that there would be terrible times in the last days.
So here’s what I believe God is telling me to do: Call on believers to say a simple prayer for the less fortunate believers in other parts of the world each time we come to worship. Don’t let those who lost their lives because of their faith become a mere statistic, but instead, let their deaths be a reminder and motivation for the whole body of Christ to pray for each other. Let us be the voice of those who have no more voice and pray—as incense brought before the Lord each time when we worship Him. God is still alive! He loves us ALL without favoritism, and He has left us instructions that help us deal with the difficult times. It doesn’t mean the violence will stop or hurt any less, but we can act in unison to lift up fellow believers around the world. Americans are not exempt from violence either, so we ought to pray for ourselves, as we pray for others.
As James 5:16 admonishes: “...pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” God is still listening to our prayers even though the outcome may not be what we want. If He had James to instruct us to pray, He is surely listening.
1 Peter 1:22 says: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.”
And 1 John 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
What better way to love our brothers and sisters in Christ who live around the world than to pray for them daily? We can learn from Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:23 when he said: “...far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”
Let us also pray for those who act violently, that they will see the great love of God and turn from violence. Just as Jesus taught us: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45). And Philippians 2:4 says: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Fellow believers are blessed as you pray for them—and it may be that others are praying for you too!
*Scripture quotations in this article are from the NASB (New American Standard Bible).
Susanna Fan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Ed. They attend a Calvary Chapel Church in their neighborhood.