Today, my facebook feed looked like this:
News Headline: “France Bombs ISIL Capitol City In Iraq.”
“Send the bastards to hell!”
“They are getting what they deserve!”
“This is what we should have been doing the whole time!”
“Nuke ’em to hell!”
What I found the most interesting were the people who were posting these comments. In one breath they said pray for Paris and the next they agreed with sending missiles to Iraq. And what’s more, some of them were my friends who I have known to be christians for their entire lives.
While I wanted to agree with the sentiment at first, I had to give pause and ask myself the question, “What should the christian response to the violence in Paris be?” While ending the threat of ISIL seems like a natural and agreeable solution, we must not forget the Apostle Paul was once a terrorist. On top of that, we are still ending life even if they are terrorists. And yet, the problem still remains; ISIL is a very real evil and if we don’t do anything, we may lose more lives to their violence.
So, what should we do with those created in the image of God who are subjugating others to their extreme evil?
It feels wrong in my spirit to cheer for the sending of missiles. When I look at Jesus I see a leader who was committed to nonviolence. As he stared down the roman prefect who would send him to the cross, his only response was his Kingdom was not of this world because if it was his followers would storm the castle with swords drawn. Similarly, on the night of his capture, the word to Peter who drew his sword was to put it away. And then, incredulously, he questions the need for a detachment soldiers when he would willingly hand himself over.
I can’t ignore this and neither should you. Jesus, as he watched thousands of his Jewish brothers and sisters being held under systemic Roman oppression willingly submitted himself to punishment from the Roman authorities.
I would imagine this doesn’t fit in our western, over militarized box. This idea may even be repulsive to some. I get it. It makes me uncomfortable as well. However, consider for a moment that we have infused war and fighting into the gospel when, in fact, it is the complete opposite.
Just last month my church did a message series on the Apostle Paul’s “Armor of God.” We even had a full coat of armor as a permanent fixture on a stage. While the sermon series was actually quite wonderful, I think we have given people the wrong idea when it comes to the language of war. We hear this passage and we assume we are supposed to pick up our swords and shields and strike down our enemies.
Fight. Fight. Fight.
What if that isn’t Paul’s message at all? When we put this in the context of history it takes on a completely opposite meaning. You see, there very well could have been Roman soldiers knocking down the door at the moment this group of Jesus followers was reading Paul’s words. If he wanted them to fight he simply would have said, “Take up your shield and your sword and defend yourself.” But, he didn’t. He said to pray, be righteous, and believe in what is true.
Perhaps he really believed Jesus when he said, “Do not be afraid of those who can harm the body but not the soul.”
The truth behind it all, as put forth by N.T. Wright in How God Became King, is that you cannot separate Kingdom and Cross. The two are so inseparably linked that you cannot have one without the other. The Kingdom of God did not come through might but through the suffering of it’s King on a Roman cross.
The message is plain: the Kingdom comes through suffering. This was Jesus’ message the whole time.
“Blessings on people who are persecuted because of God’s way! The kingdom of heaven belongs to you.” (Matthew 5:10).
How then, do we as a people who are called to suffer, respond to the immense evil of an entity like ISIL?
The answer is certainly more than what I can accurately describe through a blog post, but I believe it starts with entering into suffering with the victims and trusting God at his word when he says, “Vengeance is mine.”
Miroslav Volf says it like this…
One could object that it is not worthy of God to wield the sword. Is God not love, long-suffering and all-powerful love? A counter-question could go something like this: Is it not a bit too arrogant to presume that our contemporary sensibilities about what is compatible with God’s love are so much healthier than those of the people of God throughout the whole history of Judaism and Christianity? Recalling my arguments about the self-immunization of the evildoers, one could further argue that in a world of violence it would not be worthy of God not to wield the sword; if God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make the final end to violence God would not be worthy of our worship. Here, however, I am less interested in arguing that God’s violence is not unworthy of God than in showing that it is beneficial to us. Atlan has rightly drawn our attention to the fact that in a world of violence we are faced with an inescapable alternative: either God’s violence or human violence. Most people who insist on God’s “nonviolence” cannot resist using violence themselves (or tacitly sanctioning its use by others). They deem the talk of God’s judgment irreverent, but think nothing of entrusting judgment into human hands, persuaded presumably that this is less dangerous and more humane than to believe in a God who judges! That we should bring “down the powerful from their thrones” (Luke 1:51-52) seems responsible; that God should do the same, as the song of that revolutionary Virgin explicitly states, seems crude. And so violence thrives, secretly nourished by belief in a God who refuses to wield the sword.
My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.
Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf pgs. 303-304
Volf’s point is that we, as Christians, hope in and for a divine judgement. Judgement is not ours to decide or declare. Our response should not be a quick a trigger finger, but, on bended knee, pray, “Lord, come quickly.”
And in the meantime, maybe we should open our homes to those fleeing the madness.