Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio transcript

It is really great to see a rise in questions coming in from India as the podcast spreads globally. Here’s one: “Dear Pastor John, my name is Pradeep, and I am from India. My desire and burden is to work among Muslims. Looking at recent events in the Middle East, especially in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt under ISIS, my heart is troubled when young people are joining ISIS and many are ready to lay down their lives for this false cause. There is a kind of fear in my heart and a desire to do something about this. My question is why do you think ISIS is so appealing to young people? And what is the Church’s response?”

I have only read one article about that issue and the point of the article was to debunk the notion that ISIS is prospering because of its appeal to the poor as a way out of poverty. And I think they were right to debunk that idea, because we know here in Minneapolis and people know around the world, in India and elsewhere, that such thinking is too simplistic. A lot of people are being drawn into the sway of ISIS who are not at all poor, coming from London or coming from Minneapolis. They are coming from Mumbai. And they are not poor.

So what else might be going on? Since I have only read one article, I am not an expert in Islam or international affairs or politics or anything like that. I think the contribution I might be able to make is simply to draw attention to three texts that I think show something about the human heart that ISIS is tapping into:

Number 1. John 16:2 says, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think they are offering service to God.” ISIS is fundamentally religious. It is about god. It is about Allah and his rule over the world through a caliphate. To serve ISIS is to serve god. The fact that it involves killing people who don’t follow ISIS might make a person think, “Well, how can they believe that they are serving god when they are so cruel and murderous?” And Jesus corrects us and says, “No, that is what to expect.” In other words, don’t think that the future will be only or mainly secular forces that kill you Christians because you believe in God. Rather, realize that God has foretold through Jesus that the time will come when they will kill you because they believe in god. They think that they are serving god. So that is a perfect description of ISIS.

So the first explanation is that young people are drawn to serve God. They are made to serve God. The false god of Islam who does not confess that Jesus has come in the flesh, doesn’t believe that he died or that God raised him from the dead, that false god is a god that is alluring people to serve god. Every person has a knowledge of God, Romans 1 says, and a kind of desire to be on God’s side. But if they reject the true God (which everybody does without Christ), then they are willing to be allured by the false god and kill people in the service of god. That is number 1.

Number 2. Paul says in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value or precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Now this is Paul’s witness to the deep, human desire to serve a cause greater than our own lives. He says, “I don’t count my life of any value.” Why not? Because dying for a great cause is greater than living for myself.

Now Christians are not the only people who feel that way. Communists and Nazis and fascists and socialists and people utterly committed to democracy and empire all through history have had causes and those causes have tapped into the human desire to count everything as loss and sell their lives out for a great cause and be a part of something where it is bigger than my little life. And ISIS is another one of those causes. And the price has been enormous. Stalin with his cause, 70 million lives. Hitler and his cause, 6 million Jews. Pol Pot’s in Cambodia, 2 million lives. And ISIS is tapping into the human longing not to live out a meaningless life. “Give me something big to live and die for and a worldwide Caliphate of peace and justice. That would do it.”

Number 3. Romans 5:2–5 says, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and enduring produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”

So here is a picture of the human heart aching for hope. I want to live forever. I want not to go to hell. I want to be on God’s side in the last day and be happy in eternity for ever. Every human being deep down longs to say, “I hope in the right things so that I don’t perish and I have everlasting happiness.” And we are willing to endure a lot of affliction if we can be assured, “I get hope. I get hope.” And ISIS taps into that ache in the human heart and promises hope. And if you make enough sacrifices and do enough killing, then you will be in paradise and you will escape hell. And so there’s an appeal to that longing for hope.

And beneath all those three is Satan suicidally deluding. He is a murderer from the beginning and the wages of sin is death. So we know sin kills us. And the devil is “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). So you get your own sin. You have got Satan moving you to buy into the false gods, the false hope, the false promises, and the false meaning of ISIS.

So when Pradeep asks, “What needs to be the response of the Christian Church worldwide?” my main answer is this: Since all those appeals of ISIS are based on deceit and falsehood, Christians should give themselves to spreading the truth. The great antidote to the bondage of falsehood is the liberation of truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Or as Jesus said in John 18:37, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth.”

There is a true God to be served. There is a true cause to give your life for. There is a true hope of eternal life to sustain you in suffering. There is forgiveness of sins and victory over Satan. So I think whether India or America or anywhere else, every church, every Christian should give everything they have to spread the truth to all the people and all the peoples of the world.