“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:43-45)
ISIS sucks, don’t they? They’re vicious. Barbaric. Cruel.
“The people of the cross” they said, while killing them. 21 Coptic Christians grotesquely beheaded on a beach by members of ISIS. And we got their front row Evites.
What do we do about ISIS?
People ask this question, and I wonder who the “we” is they’re talking about. If by “we,” what is meant is the American government, officials, military, etc., then my answer is simply, “I don’t know. I don’t speak for them.” It is not my inclination, position or expertise. I do have some opinions on American involvement in the Middle East that has helped to destabilize the region and create ISIS, but I won’t get into that.
But if by “we” what is meant is “we, Christians living in America,” well, then I do have something to say. And what I say might seem inadequate to you, but it is my response. So let me try and give it.
First, what can we do?
We can pray. We should pray. We can grieve and take solidarity with our brothers and sisters. We can give aid and comfort. And we can and should pray for ISIS, forgive them and love them.
Most Christians I know dislike that response. In fact, they not only dislike it, they scoff at it. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Isn’t it, in fact, how Jesus tells us to respond? And while you may say I’m starry-eyed and gullible, I’m just trying to be a Christian. And responding as Jesus does is precisely that.
I’m convinced something has gone strangely wrong in the American Church when the idea of forgiving enemies is viewed as a kind of naiveté. I say “forgive,” and can understand that some will read that and be angry, but it’s odd to me that many of them will be Christians.
I think, like our Coptic brothers and sisters, we too have to be People of the Cross. Becoming a Christian is embarking on the uniquely difficult journey of attempting to live this out: “Take up your cross.” After all, what is more emblematic to Christ-likeness than the cross? But would ISIS call us that? If they shoved, would they really get that? Would they instead find only “people of the flag, of the gun and missile”?
We, the people of the Cross, are the forgiving-forgiven. And we are either about forgiveness or we are about nothing. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you,” is not a suggestion. It is a mandate from Jesus, central to what it means to be Christian. ISIS is a monster. And just as there were monsters in Jesus’ time, formed by the ethos of power and brutality, we too face such monsters. But it is in the face of this kind of barbarism that God in Jesus says, “forgive” while hanging from a cross. A cross: an instrument of torture and execution, and you take it up, because in following Jesus you accept the possibility of such suffering.
Forgiveness. Is. Suffering.
It is suffering best demonstrated on the Cross. And when suffering is off the table, you know you’re being formed by some other ethos than that of Jesus. You know you’re of a different mind than the mind which is in Christ, who became a servant, suffering even the death of a cross when suffering isn’t good enough for you.
But what will that mean for us? What hope can we have in forgiving ISIS who terrorizes and martyrs Christians?
The hope we embrace for the world is to see it shaped by His ethos, rather than ours. The hope for the world is to see lust for dominance replaced by love. The desire for vengeance replaced by forgiveness. That cannot happen unless we do it! And while I find it so difficult to forgive ISIS, I must. Interestingly how much more taken up with vengeance I am from way over here in my safety than are the families and pastors of those Egyptian Christians who were beheaded. They somehow find it easy to forgive. They even insist that we do it!
Absurd, isn’t it?
I want to do something about what was done to them, just not what they say we should do: forgive. We fear that if we do, what was done to them, we may have to endure as well. Is it possible we have so sand-papered the cross that it is no longer rugged? Such symbolism that it no longer bears any weight? We say to those 21, and to Jesus, “we want to join you, but not that far. Not to death. Not to a cross.”
The Jesus ethos goes something like this: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your American neighbor and hate ISIS.’ But I tell you, love ISIS and pray for them, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
So here, may I lead you in a prayer for ISIS?
Father, I don’t know pain like those Egyptian families know pain. And though it is almost ridiculous to fathom, they forgive the men who committed this ugly, horrid thing. It was vile, God. What they did was evil and wrong. A violation of the beauty and dignity of those precious lives. And yet, we join them, and you, in uttering forgiveness.
We ask you to open ISIS minds to truth. To love. To You, Jesus. Show up on their Damascus-road and heal their eyes of their blindness. May they repent from their violence and hatred. God, instead may they become gentle husbands, and loving fathers, respected in their communities and bearers of goodness, mercy and grace. Turn their feet to Your path, and we pray they instead become pastors! Haha! May they lead others in your great Name, Jesus. May they call their brothers into repentance, baptizing them into the Way, the Truth and the Life. May we see Your Kingdom born in their hearts, made anew. Bless them, in Jesus’ name. Amen.