Part Two: A Sense of Urgency and Divine Vindication
The Hebrew Scriptures are full of examples of advocates. The prophets such as Jeremiah, Amos, Ezekiel, etc. were all advocates. But not all the advocates were men. One of the most important advocates in the Hebrew Scriptures was Esther – she saved her people! Remember, as well, that the Messiah would come from the people that she saved!
And Esther was not pleading her case before God. That is, as we have seen in the examples of Abraham and Moses, a daunting and fearful task . . . but not in the same way as pleading before an earthly king, of a different faith, who could have you executed at any moment for coming before him without being summoned.
You know the story. Haman had convinced King Xerxes to give the order to annihilate every Jew in the kingdom. When Mordecai tells Esther what is to happen, he declares that God has put her in the position she is in “for such a time as this.”
- Advocates know that they are GOD’S INSTRUMENTS
They know that they are God’s instruments and behave accordingly. Esther tells Mordecai to fast, and that she and her attendants will also fast. She has to do business with God before she faces the king. Christian advocacy, likewise, should be grounded in prayer, infused with prayer, and covered by prayer. Prayerful awareness of being an instrument of the Lord on behalf of the persecuted will ensure that an advocate is open to whatever God has in store. Sometimes it is in the form of a “coincidence” that changes the situation. Other times it can that God will use a “chance” encounter that enables a connection with just the right person. Awareness of being God’s instrument also gives us the faith that God is still in control even when it doesn’t seem as if He is answering prayer. In addition,
- Advocates have a SENSE OF URGENCY
Esther approached the king to make her plea without being summoned because the situation was so urgent. This was a capital offense, unless the king extended his scepter to her. Christian advocates for persecuted Christians today rarely have to take their lives in their hands in that way. But a sense of urgency for the persecuted – knowing that they are dying, that they are being arrested or tortured or enslaved, will mean that we should make advocacy a priority. We will have less time for other things.
For instance, when a number of us found out that Boko Haram had threatened to kill Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu in just a few weeks, prayer requests flooded social media – displacing other issues that people might have been tweeting about or posting on Facebook. In addition, advocates sent messages urging the U.S. government to put pressure on Nigeria to work for her release.
The Book of Esther describes the whole story, the whole fascinating strategy to save the Jews. And it is a strategy, because
- Advocates are STRATEGIC
The plan that Esther devises to counter Haman’s murderous intentions shows great political intelligence and understanding of human nature. And even though the situation was urgent, Esther set it up over a series of days for just the right effect.
The final example of advocacy from the Hebrew Scriptures is quite different. It is the only one that actually uses a word that can be translated as “advocate” and it is one in which God Himself IS the advocate. In that sense, it is a forerunner and foreshadower of the New Testament references to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit as our advocates.
The example to which I refer is found in the Book of Job. God appears to be advocate for and to vindicate Job in response to the accusations made against him by his three friends. These buddies – commonly (and ironically) known as “Job’s comforters,” only increased the misery that Job was already experiencing as Satan had unleashed all kinds of calamities against him.
In Job 16: 19, Job says, “Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is on high.” God Himself is eye witness to Job’s innocence and the purity of his prayers. In response, He is Job’s advocate and testifies to Job’s innocence.
- Advocates TESTIFY to the innocence of the persecuted
There are some, even within the Church, who seem to imply that Christians bring trouble on themselves. If they are persecuted it is because they have done something to deserve it! At a National Council of Churches meeting in the late 1990’s I heard an American missionary to the Islamic world say that the only Christians that were having “problems” in her particular country were those that had “abandoned the religion into which they had been born.” That was her way of explaining the persecution of Christian converts from Islam.
Another example was at the Sixth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1983. When a letter of appeal was read to the group from a Russian Orthodox deacon, Vladimir Rusak, who had been fired from his position and made a street sweeper because he had written a three volume history of the post-Revolution Russian Church exposing the church’s compromises and collaborations with the Soviets, the Russian Orthodox delegates to the WCC accused Rusak of insanity and said that he had been kicked in the head by a horse when he was a child.
The rest of the WCC was focused on their agenda of “nuclear threat and neo-colonialism,” so nothing was done to help Rusak. Two years later he was sentenced to 12 years labor camp and exile.
I shouldn’t have to say it, but advocates have to stand against the lies and false accusations that are used to justify the persecution of the followers of Christ.
In Part Three of “The Theology of Advocacy for the Persecuted” we will look at New Testament advocacy and other resources for the persecuted that God has provided.
(This article is based on a speech given at the Providence Journal’s conference on Christianity & National Security: Exploring Church Teaching on Government’s Divine Vocation. The video of the speech and all the speeches at that conference will soon be available.)