Prophets have a mixed reputation among Christians. Some see them as fruitcakes who interrupt church services at inconvenient moments to deliver ominous missives in archaic language. Others swear by them and can give examples of where they have received a “word from the Lord” which came true. Some do not think there are any prophets anymore as the gift of prophecy ceased with the completion of Scripture. Whatever we think of prophecy, we can all agree that our words have effects for good or ill, particularly if we are a high-profile Christian who claims to be speaking for God.
Such was the case when earlier this year, Cindy Jacobs, co-founder of the intercessory organisation Generals International, announced God’s opinion of the assassination of the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
According to Jacobs, about six months ago God revealed to her that increasing tensions between the US and Iran would cause World War III and that prayer was needed. Ostensibly, God also informed her that Soleimani was preparing further military assaults on American troops in Iraq with much bloodletting as a result. It was therefore God’s view that Soleimani’s death was a justifiable preventable measure. Another benefit predicted by Jacobs is that the Iranian regime will be toppled by Soleimani’s death.
Past attempts at claiming through special revelation that deadly events are God’s judgement ought to make us sceptical. In 2006 Pastor John Hagee enlightened us all when he opined that the New Orleans flood of August 2005 that left 1,464 people dead was the consequence of that city’s sin. The city drowned because on the Monday when the storm surge overwhelmed the levees, there was to be a gay pride march. More recently in 2017, Hurricane Harvey, which deluged Houston, was declared to be an act of God in retaliation for Texas’ vote for Trump.
However, there are some awkward facts that the prophetic cognoscenti seem to overlook. If New Orleans was sunk because of sexual sin and Houston received the same treatment because God abhors Trump, why is it that the innocent also suffered? What of the Christians of New Orleans who had to flee? What of Houston’s Democrat voters who ought to have been spared the floodwaters, but clearly were not? Perhaps God’s aim is rather dodgy in his infinitely advanced age? To complicate matters, some Christians are of the view that Houston was targeted by God because it is located in the pro-Democrat Harris County. Perhaps God is neither Republican nor Democrat but really a Communist?
Just in case anyone thinks that batty prognostications are an American disease, it is important to emphasise that the UK is not exempt. In the winter of 2013-14, Britain was afflicted by severe floods. Henley-on-Thames’ UKIP councillor David Silvester blamed these natural disasters on the decision to legalise gay marriage. Like his fellow transatlantic seers, what Mr Silvester failed to explain is how God, when he unleashed his storms, managed to cause indiscriminate suffering to all manner of people, including people like Mr Silvester, who are opposed to gay marriage.
Iran and the US
Jacob’s message does no better. It is a weird bundle of illogic and ignorance. If prayer is needed to prevent war between Iran and the US, why is Soleimani’s liquidation, which could provoke the war that Jacobs says we should pray against, a good thing? However, war between Iran and the US is very unlikely and we do not need a prophet to tell us that. The Iranian regime is interested above all in surviving and can ill afford a war with a superpower whilst suffering the effects of sanctions and witnessing internal civil disorder.
What about the Christians in Iraq who now might be at a greater risk as a result of Soleimani’s death? When Saddam Hussein was removed from power in 2002, a million Iraqi Christians fled Iraq to live in the Nineveh Plains to the north. Many have been murdered by ISIS. It was Iranian-backed Shia militia which drove ISIS out of the area, not for the sake of persecuted Christians, but because ISIS belongs to the rival Sunni denomination. Who knows now what these militia might do to Iraqi Christians in retaliation for Soleimani’s elimination by the ‘Christian’ US? If the US is forced to withdraw its troops from Iraq in response to the Iraqi Parliament’s resolution, who will protect displaced Iraqi Christians, something the US has done rather imperfectly? Perhaps Jacobs might like to tell us as she seems so well-informed on these intricate matters.
Dying by the sword
It is unquestionable that Soleimani was a ghoulishly violent man responsible, it is estimated, for seventeen per cent of American deaths in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. But if God, according to Jacobs, is so cut up about murderous men, why does he not incite a missile strike on China’s Premier Xi Jinping for his policy of violent repression of Muslims and Christians? And what about Putin? Or Kim Jong-un for goodness sake?
Whatever God might be saying through his prophets, or not, we can say with the certainty of scripture that Soleimani was a man who lived by the sword and therefore as Jesus warned died by it (Matthew 26:52). He was killed as an enemy combatant out of revenge and as an act of American re-assertion in the Middle East. Perhaps if our prophets spent more time exhorting us to pray for our enemies as Scripture commands, then perhaps people like Soleimani might not be our enemies after all.
Dr Peter Harris is the author of The Rage Against the Light: Why Christopher Hitchens was Wrong and the soon-to-be published Do You Believe It? A Guide to a Reasonable Christian Faith.
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