Today I have been thinking a lot about what response those who seek to follow Jesus Christ should have to violence and wars in this world. The anniversary of 9/11 and the rise of ISIS provide moments of reflection on the past, and ask for current answers of how to respond.
One response is encapsulated in an article entitled "Why I am Absolutely Islamaphobic" (originally posted on Charisma News but quickly pulled). The Rev. Cass concludes that our only action as Christians can be arming ourselves to "crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus name".
Another perspective is offered by Carl Medearis in "A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS" where he gives a much more measured recommendation based on his experience getting to know Muslim leaders, one that starts with love and seeking understanding rather than immediate appeal to war.
After the last article was shared in a Facebook group, one person posted a question and comment in response: "So what IS God up to? I think things may be building up to Armageddon."
The following is my initial answer to that question, thinking through this out loud.
Jesus and the Kingdom of God
What if events such as 9/11 or the rise of ISIS are new opportunities to choose to follow Christ, or follow the Deceiver? I believe that every time we choose retributive violence we choose Armageddon for ourselves and others.
Jesus was born into a culture that was under ruthless oppression. The religious leaders of the time were seeking a warrior Messiah who would use violence against violence, establish a political empire, and reinforce a religious class that controlled access to God through their rules, rituals, genetics and physical location (Jerusalem and temple).*
He told these leaders over and over “repent and believe in me” – in other words, abandon this plan (metanoéō: “think differently afterwards”) and follow my plan – or face the consequences. It’s pretty obvious what would eventually happen if they continued on their course, and Jesus wanted to lead them into the true way of being God’s people outside of their nationalist agenda. Yet they rejected him and had him killed because they refused to believe that God wanted forgiveness and inclusion instead of retaliation and exclusion.
What happened 40 years later? Exactly what Jesus predicted – one of their (many) preferred Zealot military messiahs brought the might of Rome crashing down on their rebellion. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed completely, and over a million people killed. Unfortunately it took total destruction to set in motion what Jesus came to establish – a post-temple age of people worshipping “in spirit and in truth” no longer tied to a physical land or temple, called to follow the example of Jesus in non-violence and inclusion of all people regardless of rules, rituals, genetics, or class.
Jesus came to reveal the justice of God (a complex concept in the original Hebrew) as forgiveness, restoration and renewal instead of punishment or retribution (something the prophets repeated over and over, but always rejected by the ruling class). He offers us this radical challenge to follow that path every time we are faced with the logical desire for retribution. To break the cycle of violence and offer love in the face of hate. David, the man after God’s heart, got at least part of this, as he continued to turn over his desire for retribution to God (even as the ruler who had full authority and was expected by all – especially Joab – to crush rebellions to the throne God had given him!).
Ultimately Jesus’s resurrection shows us that God triumphs even in the face of our rejection of his desires, yet wouldn’t it be great if we began choosing that better path and not facing (and delivering to others) the earthly consequences of our rebellion (sin)?
Let us seek to work together, under the leadership of Jesus Christ, to bring the Kingdom of God to reign on earth, as it is in heaven. That is my daily prayer, as he taught us to pray.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name;
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
* For more on the expectations of the first century Jewish community for messiah, read "The Challenge of Jesus" by N.T. Wright
A very brief look at recent history, as I run out of time to research thoroughly, shows us how failure to forgive radically leads to further violence.
- It is generally agreed by historians that the retributive and shaming policies inflicted on Germany after surrender in World War I led directly to justifying the Second World War for many Germans.
- The invasion of Kuwait was followed by the invasion of Iraq, followed by 9/11, then Afghanistan, Iraq, and now ISIS is the latest response (bearing in mind that this is massively simplistic and I'm not an expert!).
- The continuing battles between Palestine and Israel.
Yes, it is easy (and accurate) to point fingers at "those who start it". However, a) it's often not that simple and b) that should not change our response as followers of Christ. We have the ability to stop the cycle, even if it means we pay with our freedom or lives.
Of course we acknowledge there are times to stand up for the oppressed through violent means if necessary, and it may come to this with ISIS. However, there are still ways to do this seeking peace and restoration of relationship, and ways that simply seek retribution and annihilation.
I'm glad I don't have to make those decisions.