Horrific acts of violence by terrorists have become a daily news report. Beheadings, crucifixions and rape top the list of hideous crimes perpetrated by radical terrorist groups like ISIS. Reports of terror plots and terrorist cells in America are frightening. International travel, already stressful, is now fearful.
Americans generally, and Christians particularly, are angry. We no longer feel safe within our own borders. We want to lash out at the terrorists and destroy every last vestige of them and their hideous ideology. A recent presidential debate featured terms like “carpet-bombing” and making the “sand glow in the dark,” a reference to nuclear assault on the deserts. The angst is palpable; people are angry.
Christians must be different, right? We are people of God, people of love and mercy, right? But we are frightened and angry. Don’t we have a right to vengeance?
Vengeance is Mine
Moses says of God, “Vengeance is mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35). The act of repaying an act of evil belongs to God. We are all “wretched” before the Lord and unable to act out of pure thoughts and motives. God alone is the one arbiter of justice that can be trusted to always judge righteously.
The response of some is to repay the terrorists with a dose of their own medicine. Yet the Bible says, “Do not say ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord and he will deliver you” (Proverbs 20:22). And Paul writes, “Repay no one evil for evil…” (Romans 12:17). He repeats the same thought in 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Peter also prohibits evil repayment, “Do not repay evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9).
The Words of Jesus
The words of Jesus are plain and impossible to misunderstand. The reader is encouraged to study the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, especially Matthew 5:38-48. In this passage, Jesus highlights two sayings, anchored in part from the Old Testament. One taught repayment in the form of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23-25). The other taught to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The Jews added “and hate your neighbor.” Of course the Bible never taught that.
Building on these two ideas, Jesus teaches not to seek recompense but to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). He adds that we ought not to hate our enemies but to love them! Surely the people were stunned with such teaching. Surely people today are stunned to hear the same thing. Are we really saying we should love the terrorists? I’m not saying it. Jesus is.
The Example of Jesus
A man can talk all day; it is his actions that really teach. Jesus was a meek, humble man who never resisted those who hated him. Prophetically, Isaiah describes him this way:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before it’s shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
Reading the gospel accounts of his arrest, trial and crucifixion, one is struck to discover that Jesus never resisted the angry Jews or Romans. When Peter made a feeble attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest, the Lord stopped him and repaired the severed ear of the man attacked by Peter. Given that Jesus was the most innocent man ever and given that his divinity gave access to the full power of the Godhead, Jesus could certainly of defended himself. He did not.
For one who wears the name of Christ, we are hard pressed to discover a single example of violence the Lord directed against those who sought his life.
The Example of the Original Christians
Those who knew Jesus and his apostles were likewise men and women of peace who left vengeance to God. We should note that the first Christians were facing an immediate threat to their lives. Yet, they did not show hatred and anger toward their opponents.
Paul was repeatedly beaten and left for dead but he did not respond violently. Peter faced persecutions and often warned his readers of troubling days ahead. John was imprisoned, tortured and banished but never repaid his captors with evil. Even among those who came later, they went to their death without vile recriminations against their persecutors.
Are We Powerless to Defend Ourselves?
God has provided for our protection. As we said, God will bring ultimate justice in his own time.(1) But God has also given the government responsibility to defend the populace. Paul says that the government does not “bear the sword in vain” and is an “avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). The context here is probably best suited to police actions but it does not damage the text to expand our thinking to defensive actions of the state. Soldiers were never rebuked for their occupations and a soldier, Cornelius, was chosen as the first Gentile convert. This warrior was described by inspiration as a “devout” man (Acts 10:2).
Christians are defended through the God-ordained functions of government. The purpose here is not to discuss the pacifist position, but to remind Christ-followers to conduct themselves gently in the public square and to ensure a godly frame of mind in all things. We trust God’s promises that whatever happens here, He will handle for us.
So How Should a Christian Think of ISIS or Terrorists
ISIS must be stopped. Our government has a duty to protect its citizens from attack. Christians, like all Americans, expect to be protected at home and when we travel. To ignore ISIS is to jeopardize the church and her mission of evangelism. The individual Christian allows the state, through a dispassionate approach, to protect against the onslaught. While the government fulfills its responsibility, we have a task to do also.
ISIS are God’s children too. Like us, they are sinners separated from God. While their sins seem more heinous, we are also separated from God by our sins. Their sins may have greater damage and greater consequences in this life, but otherwise they are like us. These are “cousins” to the Jews, both coming from through Noah’s son Shem. Religiously, they hail from Abraham and his first son Ishmael. They are wrong, but they are still God’s children just like every other group on earth today.
ISIS needs our prayers. These men and women do not know Jesus. They do not know Jehovah and they worship a false God (Allah) through a false faith (Islam), given through a false prophet (Mohammed). Unless something happens to change the preceding sentence, they will be lost. Salvation is found in no other (Acts 4:12) and Jesus alone is the way to the one true God (John 14:6). Christians should make terrorists a part of their daily prayer plans. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies did he not (Matthew 5:44)? We do not pray for them to be saved in their sins, but to be saved from their sins through the powerful working of Scripture. We should pray for opportunities to teach them of Jesus.
ISIS Needs the Golden Rule Too. Jesus taught that we should treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves (Matthew 7:12). Now stop and consider what you would want if you grew up in a dismal place with few opportunities and no knowledge of peace. What if your entire worldview were shaped by hatred? Would you want bombs or Bibles? Grenades or grace? Missiles or mercy? It is a challenging question but the answer is simple. Let us apply the golden rule to our enemies too.
ISIS Includes Children. Children are always the losers in every war. You cannot carpet bomb or “nuke a nation back into the Stone Age” without slaughtering thousands of children. If we allow our hatred to boil over, we will surely be left to regret the outcome. We must find a way to stop the violence, not to increase it. We are seeing precious little leadership from our politicians. They seem to race to be the most hawkish. What a shame!
Christians cannot descend into the same cesspool of hatred and madness that our enemies now occupy. We must be different! We are a priesthood a chosen and different people (1 Peter 2:9, 10). It is by love, not hatred, that we are to be known (1 John 4:7, 8)
This article will anger some readers. I do not write to provoke anger but thought. In your responses, please anchor your thoughts in God’s word. That way, we will enjoy a common ground of discussion. My argument is simple: Hatred has no place in the life of the Christian.
- Consider the saints of Revelation who cried for justice – Revelation 6:9-11. Notice, however, that justice came on God’s schedule, not theirs.(↩)