The ISIS Definition of Who Lives and Who Dies


The People of the Cross

I woke to the news that 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Tripoli. That ISIS would pick a beautiful place by the ocean to carry out this heinous act feels particularly galling.

God’s creation in all its beauty juxtaposed with man, made in the image of God, in all his free-willed horror.

The news did not even make it to the front page of the New York Times.

We are in a world where a terrorist organization decides who lives and who dies and it’s no longer front page news. 

The video that was released called the men “People of the Cross.” I have had the privilege of living in Egypt, of going to the homes, churches, and monasteries of Coptic Christians. These are my brothers and sisters in faith. It hurts my soul and I have few words for this horror.

But if I am honest, in my heart every day I make the kind of decisions that lead up to what ISIS did to these men. I daily decide who to despise and who to accept; who is worthy of my kindness and who deserves my rejection. And that’s what hurts — that as evil as ISIS is, the same spirit is in me.

We live in a world where the definition of who should be allowed to live narrows with each passing day. How can my prayers, my life, my actions reflect something completely different?

And can I pray for those who inflict such evil?

The man who cries out against evil men but does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.” — St. Silouan the Athonite

The Call to Prayer echoes across the Muslim world five times a day. It calls the faithful to stop what they are doing and pray. As a Christian growing up in the Muslim world, five times a day I have been reminded to lift my heart in prayer. The faith and truth claims are different, but the Call to Prayer still serves as a reminder. And the five times stretches to many times in between until I realize I am slowly learning that I can’t make it through this life without prayer; that the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ is life-giving. That in the midst of senseless acts of violence, in the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he “willingly endured the cross”.From In the Midst of Tragedy, a Call to Pray

Those are my thoughts this day.

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14 thoughts on “The ISIS Definition of Who Lives and Who Dies

  1. It may not have made the front page but many of us are aware it happened. Christians in the U.S. live in plush security thinking that the inability to make others, non-Christians, do and behave as they, Christians, wish is persecution. Some Christians of my country do imagine persecution in the slightest, harmless things. This, what has been done to these men, is the definition of religious persecution. My heart aches for their family and country.

    I did see a side note in the Times this morning that Egypt has acted. I know Egypt is in upheaval but I have always blessed them for their tolerance and respect for their Coptics. Some in my nation will want to strike out without pause, others will see it as a complex issue among cultures far, far older than ours.

    Blessings on these Christians and their loved ones.


    1. Thank you for coming by and reading. Yes, Coptic Christians have been part of the fabric of Egyptian society for centuries. These men all came from one community in Egypt, all in Libya for economic reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the question I asked myself yesterday. How do I pray for them? Father forgive them? …when my heart screams …Father stop them! I don’t like the image in my mind of these men led to a beautiful shore. …for they know not what they are doing? …they seem to know all too well…they seem to want the publicity…part of me says stop showing it…it is feeding their insanity. Oh, God, I can only believe that your heart breaks, and that we can weep, and fall into your arms, and when we are spent, we can rest and trust.


    1. Cary – it helped my heart to see your comment on this piece. Thank you more than you know. And I couldn’t agree more – how much does social media hurt all of this, bringing attention to evil? A friend sent this today and I was so struck by it: ““I am encouraged” she said, “because now I know that what we have been taught in history books about Egyptian Christians being martyred for their faith is not just history but that there are Christians today who are brave enough to face death rather than deny their Lord! When I saw these young men praying as they were being prepared for execution and then many of them shouting “O Lord Jesus” as their throats were being slit, I realized that the Gospel message can still help us to hold on to the promises of God even when facing death!”


  3. Do you really believe that the same spirit lives in you or are you using hyperbole?

    I think I understand where you are coming from by referring to the old sinful nature, but don’t you feel like this is a gross overstatement especially since you have been made a new creation in Christ?

    The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is in you if you are his, not the evil spirits inhabiting the beheaders of our brothers.

    I share your desire to pray for them, however I don’t believe we share the same spirit.

    Grace to you.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Perhaps I used the wrong word by using spirit and I appreciate the challenge. Do I think that I’m capable of the same evil? Unfortunately yes – if the teachings of Jesus are true than if I hate someone I’ve murdered them. And yes, I am a new creation but in the spirit of St. Paul still “do what I don’t want to do.” Galations 5:17 says it well – “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” so maybe it’s semantics. But I don’t think it’s a gross overstatement.


  4. Reblogged this on Writing on Life and commented:
    Great thoughts on responding to ISIS biblically. Living in this American cushion, it’s almost shameful for me to comment on what’s happening to Christian brothers and sisters in other lands.

    But I can’t help but think of Peter’s words to Christians living under deadly persecution in the first century.

    Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (‭1 Peter‬ ‭4‬:‭12-13‬ ESV)


    1. Thanks so much for sharing the post! So glad you quoted 1 Peter here. It’s so easy for us to think that this is unique to history – instead we have example on example of those who remained true to Christ in the face of suffering.


    1. John Lambert says it well, I so agree.
      I have been thinking on your St Silouan exhortation to pray for these evil ones, how my heart recoils, but I know it is right to lift them before The Throne of Grace.
      For each and every name listed of the 21, for the families they represent, for the communities they lived in, for the cities they hail from, those too, are in my petitions.
      May He Himself, my Intercessor, utter the words on behalf of all the spirits who groan!


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