They say a candle flickers most violently just before it goes out. Could that be what we’re seeing with ISIS in Iraq? Or is the recent onslaught of suicide bombings, with more than two hundred killed in the last week, a sign of something else? The terrorist group has lost roughly 45% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq, to go along with 20% of their Syrian holdings, and appears to be increasingly incapable of waging the kind of war that won them so much of the region back in 2014.
So it’s quite possible that these suicide bombings are simply a last ditch effort to inflict as much damage as possible before their decline leads to eventual defeat. Perhaps, though, speaking about this conflict in the past tense is a bit premature. You see, such attacks were a regular part of the group’s playbook when they were still part of Al Qaeda. That strategy proved quite successful in eliciting fear and deepening the prejudice between the Sunni terrorists and the Shiite majority throughout Iraq.
Back in 2013, a similar wave of suicide bombings elicited such a strong response from the Shiites that the Sunnis in the country welcomed ISIS and the protection they claimed to offer. As Tim Arango of The New York Times speculates, the recent attacks could have a similar purpose. Moreover, as Arango notes, “The reflex of the Shiite leadership is to protect Baghdad . . . and that is likely to prompt calls for military and police units to be pulled from the front lines to secure the capital.”
Should that happen, a new groundswell of support and a lessened resistance could allow ISIS the necessary time to regroup from their recent losses. Or the attacks could simply be a desperate attempt to stave off an inevitable and forthcoming defeat. While the latter of those options would certainly be preferable, assuming that’s the case would be unwise. Basing your plans for the future on hopes and dreams rather than the present reality seldom ends well.
Fortunately, we serve a God for whom the future is as real as the present (Isaiah 46:9–10). We can trust his plans because he makes them with full knowledge of what’s ahead. That doesn’t mean his plans won’t result in some rocky moments for us though, as following his will can lead to difficult times.
To be sure, our suffering often simply results from our own mistakes or the fact that we live in a fallen, messed up world. There are other times, however, when God will ask us to endure a period of trials and hard times as a necessary part of his larger plan, and we should never doubt that God will only ask us to endure such times when they are necessary.
As a perfect Father (Matthew 7:11), he loves us far too much to ever wish us harm unless it’s an essential part of a greater good (Jeremiah 29:11). If God really cares for us as Scripture teaches, then he would not want us to go through the difficulties we so often encounter in doing his will unless he considered the purpose towards which we are working worth the cost such obedience requires us to pay.
I can’t imagine ever wanting my daughter to experience pain or asking her to do something that I know will cause her hardship unless it was absolutely necessary or I knew it was for her ultimate good. That is true even more of our heavenly Father.
So the next time following God’s will costs you something, remember that he wouldn’t ask you to do it unless he, in his perfect and omniscient wisdom, knew it was an essential part of his greater plan for your life. If we can believe that—not just say we believe it because we know we’re supposed to but truly know it in the depths of our souls—then going through those hard times gets just a little bit easier. And while we may never fully understand that purpose this side of heaven, we can trust our heavenly Father when he says the price of obedience is more than worth it in the end (Romans 8:8). Do you believe that today?