Nabeel Qureshi’s Passing and Hope

I have been praying hard for my friend Nabeel Qureshi ever since I learned of his stage 4 stomach cancer. Nabeel was so humble and a persistent and honest seeker after truth. Nabeel was also in the prime of life and health, and unlike some of us who are older, I thought, he should have decades of fruitful ministry ahead of him. I saw the cancer as an attack on his ministry that was so strategic. The survival rate for stage 4 stomach cancer is one out of 25 (4 percent) after five years, and most do not survive the first year; but those statistics are descriptive rather than prescriptive and need not limit our prayers.

Today I learned that Nabeel passed away at age 34, after over a year with the cancer.

The news is heartbreaking to all of us who loved and respected him, and sometimes things don’t make sense from our mortal perspectives.

Nevertheless, for myself and for others who are mourning, there are some things we can say for sure:

  • Nabeel touched more people in his fairly short life than most of us get to touch in a long one. God used him greatly, both to testify about the truth of Christ and to teach us Christians a much deeper love for Muslims.
  • Nabeel’s passing is NOT due to any failure of faith or lack of prayer. Vast numbers of people prayed faithfully for him; in my own case, in the past months his healing has been my most consistent prayer. Some were fasting a day each week. Some of those who prayed for him in person have seen equally incurable cases cured through prayer and experienced visible miracles—just not this time (in the hoped-for way).
  • Nabeel himself kept his lively trust in God to the end, even if, at the end, it became clear that this would not mean healing. His faithfulness in the face of death is itself a testimony for all of us who, one way or another, will also face death if the Lord tarries. Faith is not just faith that God will say Yes; faith is trusting God’s plan even when He says No.
  • All of us as believers in Jesus share the same ultimate hope. We will be reunited with Nabeel, and others, at the resurrection.
  • Each of us has our place in God’s plan, and ultimately the gates of death will not prevail against the church (Matt 16:18). That is, when God allows any of us to be taken, it does not stop God’s work. It just means we get to rest from ours (Rev 14:13).
  • The prayers will not be wasted. God sees our hearts and will still achieve his purposes.

Although this is incidental to the point, Nabeel had shared times when someone prayed for him and he had a special experience with the Spirit or even a temporary relief from the suffering. That is, God was hearing the prayers all along. Even though God has said No in this case, there is a bigger Yes in the long run. Nabeel’s labor has ended, but may the legacy of his work be multiplied a million times over in this generation.

Jesus is the only Savior

If we are to believe the apostolic message in the Bible:

Islam can’t save you.

Buddhism can’t save you.

Hinduism can’t save you.

And Christianity can’t save you.

Only Jesus Christ can save you.

(further discussion in Keener and Usry, Defending Black Faith, 108-35, esp. 123)

Flash sale on Acts commentary and Impossible Love

Ordinarily I just use this blog post to post Bible studies and (on Saturdays) silly cartoons, but this is a special circumstance: just for March 30-31, is running a special sale on my Acts commentary set (now $99.99–about 57% off!): Also 50% off on Impossible Love (now $7.99), narrating my wife’s experience as a war refugee in Congo and how we got together:

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The Risen movie

The acting, casting (with Jesus and his disciples actually looking Mediterranean rather than northern European), and cinematography were extraordinary. The buildings looked authentic (despite some questionable topography at times); the scene with the fleet was extraordinary, though for such a masterpiece the scene was amazingly—pardon the pun—fleeting (the ships’ design looked maybe earlier than first century, but I didn’t get a good look at them). Tribunes would be Pilate’s closest confidantes, and a tribune would be stationed in charge of the Jerusalem cohort. The realism of the early scene enabled me to visualize the advance of a Roman tortoise formation under significant attack in a way I had never imagined. Clearly an enormous amount of research went into the film. Establishing such images in the mind for a sense of and appreciation for the period would alone be worth the price of the movie, and this movie seems to take it to a new level.

Because my work is especially historical I should mention some historical quibbles, however; for example, Tiberius certainly did not visit Judea (he barely was willing to leave the island of Capri); had one changed him to the Syrian governor, however, we would have lost the extraordinary naval scene in Caesarea. The ascension scene should have occurred after the return to Judea, but another trip would have added more complexity (and put Clavius in danger). You don’t return to Judea from Galilee by boat (though perhaps they were crossing to a better port in Galilee for that purpose). Jesus revealed himself only to chosen witnesses (Acts 10:41), but technically he is appearing to the disciples rather than to the Roman soldier when in the movie the latter sees him. Soldiers stationed in Jerusalem were not Roman legionaries per se but auxiliaries, mostly from Syria (though tribunes would be Roman citizens). We don’t know that Mary Magdalene was actually a “woman of the street” and we do know that if she had been, her clientele probably would not have been in Jerusalem. Most of all, Peter would not have felt so comfortable with a Roman—much less a tribune—before Peter gets to Acts 10, when God had to reveal to him that he could associate with a centurion and his household (though the movie gets right Peter’s ultimate position). I do think that most of Jesus’s disciples, like most ancient disciples, were probably in their mid- to late teens.Some arguments from silence are stronger than others; would early Christians be silent about the conversion of a tribune? Indeed, the movie’s basic premise of the Roman military trying to stamp out belief in Jesus’s resurrection in the days after the event is not historically likely; although early Christians did not have reason to emphasize Roman persecution, one might have expected at least a hint of it in Acts, yet it does not appear there.

Nevertheless, it is intriguing, and once one accepts the premise, the depictions, the acting, and the casting were all extraordinary. No one expects the movie to be a historical documentary, but apart from what is necessary for the story line, it provides dramatic insight into the period and events. Although the story line surrounding the central character is fictitious, as just noted, the movie otherwise stays close to the biblical script. Anyone willing to learn from something partly fictitious (as anyone who reads fiction, watches movies or cartoons, or even likes Jesus’s parables) should find it edifying. This is similar to the 1980s miniseries A.D., which used a fictitious frame but communicated well the letter and spirit of much of the Book of Acts (though Clavius being single better fits our knowledge of the Roman military than Valerius’s marriage in that series). Risen, of course, reflects more recent standards for visual scope and coherent action.

Such films help us to explore more deeply the biblical stories with which we have sometimes become too familiar. Personally, these are the kinds of films I like best, because they invite our imaginations into the most important events of history.