I feel sheepish writing this, for reasons I’ll explain. But I feel sheepish not writing it, too. So I’m writing this.
Saeed Abedini was a listener to our radio show. He lived in Boise, Idaho, before being arrested and held prisoner in Iran. We talked about him a lot on the show, not because he was more important than other prisoners, but because we felt a personal connection, and knew he was held because of his convictions about Jesus.
Before Saeed was national news, we asked people to help put him on the radar. His wife, Naghmeh, became a friend, and she worked and worked to put pressure on the U.S. government, the Iranian government – anyone! – to make Saeed’s release a priority. She wanted her husband, and her children’s daddy, back home.
While I was already aware of difficulties in their marriage, I did not discuss it. The issues clearly didn’t change Naghmeh’s intense desire to see her husband freed and allowed to return home to their children.
Less than two weeks ago, when Saeed was released, I asked Naghmeh to talk with us about it. (I had to be prodded to do this. I’m the World’s Worst News Reporter. I hate bothering people when they’re busy, even friends.) We recorded a conversation, and posted it on social media. She was her usual gracious self. We edited the audio for the next day’s show, featuring four different full segments with Naghmeh. Some were celebrative, talking about the upcoming reunion in Europe with Saeed.
Shortly after laying out the next day’s show, I heard from Naghmeh that things were not going well. She wouldn’t be going to Europe. It would be best for the family to stay out of the spotlight, she said. My producer, Sherri, and I completely re-organized the next day’s show. We left only one segment with Naghmeh, wherein she had acknowledged troubles and asked listeners to pray for her family.
At length, we discussed deleting the interview we’d posted online. In the end, we thought deleting it, after posting it, might draw more questions and attention than leaving it up (especially when people had already retweeted or re-posted it.) We asked Naghmeh, and she said leaving it up was fine.
I bring this up not to defend that decision – there’s really no controversy here – but to explain why I haven’t been talking about Saeed much since that initial news and interview. Many have asked me about this. But Naghmeh has requested to be out of the spotlight, and that seems like an obviously good thing for the family.
I don’t want to interview Saeed. Not now, anyway. Maybe someday.
Instead, I pray (seriously, actually pray) that God does something wonderful with him and his family. I hope there are golden days ahead – their best days. Picnics and fun and quiet nights at home as a family. I hope.
But yes, out of the spotlight. God doesn’t need any of us to be famous for His purposes. No one should need the applause of thousands. Attention can be as addictive as heroin, and every bit as life-distorting. It’s surely corrosive in times like this.
While we all have it, the very desire for attention itself is a hunger for that which does not bring life. We’re all zoo animals. Don’t feed the animals.
“Fame is a food that dead men eat,” says poet Austin Dobson.
Honest question I’ve been asked: “If it’s true that he’s done what his wife says, what are we to think of Saeed, now? It’s so confusing. Is he a good guy, or a bad guy, or…?”
Two things I know:
1. You need not decide anything about this man. Or any other man. I’m not sure where it happened that thought we needed to render a verdict on anyone’s heart. Only God can do that. (I Cor 4) We don’t even know our own hearts.
Pray for him. God loves him infinitely. And his family, too. God loves them infinitely. While you’re at it, pray for me. God loves me infinitely. (It’s weird how difficult it was to type that last sentence.)
2. This man, like the man typing this, isn’t a Good Man. No one is good except God. I can say this about any man with full confidence: He’s a mix of things. Mixed motivations, a desire to please God, impure thoughts, love for others, and selfish tendencies.
This doesn’t excuse any of our behavior, of course. But it does eliminate the guesswork: If you put your faith in anyone but Christ, you are putting your faith in the wrong person.
The Bible, itself, is littered with “heroes” who are scandalously, publicly messed-up. People who believe in the Bible, then, should be the least-shocked of all to hear that someone is capable of both admirable works of stunning endurance and sacrifice… and works of embarrassing rebellion and selfishness. This was never in question.
That’s why we have a familiar refrain on our radio show: Do not put people on moral pedestals. Ever. While they may do wonderful things, putting them on a pedestal is, quite frankly, a very un-loving and even selfish thing to do.
They can’t handle it. They are but frail humans. It will destroy them.
The Good News? Jesus covers it all, for those willing to admit they need the cover. He’s so good, even our sin can – and will, in the end – become part of a beautiful story.
I’m rooting for Naghmeh. She’s awesome. I’m rooting for Saeed. I’m pulling for the the kids. I’m so thankful for the thousands of listeners to prayed, tweeted, posted, or even just put up with me asking, for the 10,000th time, to pray for this family in Idaho.
Keep praying. But now… I’m going radio-dark on this one. It might be best if everyone else did, too.
Rich Mullins has a song, and it’s again rattling around my head: “We’re Not As Strong As We Think We Are”
It took the hand of God almighty
To part the waters and the sea
But it only takes one little lie
To separate you and me
We are not as strong as we think we are.
And that’s all of us.