You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44
Over the course of the last several months, world news has been dominated by the emergence of ISIS, an evil and abhorrent group of Islamic Extremists. ISIS, as well as other extremist groups, commit heinous crimes against humanity (specifically Christians), leaving many of us angry, confused and distraught. I recently came across this question posed by Brian Zahnd, author of Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace, that addresses this type of radical terror: “Are Caesar, Attila, Saladin, Hitler, Al-Qaeda, ISIS exceptions to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies…or are they the test?”
This question doesn’t have a simple answer. What are we, as followers of Christ, to do in the face of such horrible atrocities? Because of their faith, innocent men, women, and children are being tormented by ruthless and vile men in the name of religion. There is no doubt that there is a mandate and responsibility to protect the innocent, to stand with those who are suffering, but how should you and I personally respond?
I believe we must respond with action; the type of action that Jesus demonstrated and taught his followers. We must pray for our neighbors, the persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. We must unite with them in prayer, but also in support, by finding avenues to assist those that are suffering, many of which are now refugees. This action shows our love for our neighbor, but that should only be part of our response.
We must also take radical action in regards to our enemies, but our action should be counter-cultural. We must also pray for them. Yes, we should pray for ISIS.
We must pray that:
- God will give us the grace to, somehow, love those that persecute us.
- He will reveal himself, His true-self, to these evil and misguided men through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ still comes to people, even those that are misguided and lost.
- He will raise up men and women of faith that will stare into the face of this evil and respond with the love of Christ, showing His true nature.
- He will confuse and confound this evil group from the inside and bring an end to this madness.
Ponder these challenging words written by Pastor and Pulitzer-Prize nominee, Frederick Buechner, in his book, The Magnificent Defeat:
The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich. The world is always bewildered by its saints.
And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.
Some will argue that this is naive, and it may be, but I believe that it could more accurately be called faith, and it is the best chance we’ve got.