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What Would You Do If ISIS Killed Your Child?

I recently read a blog post by a US Army chaplain, who talks about his struggle with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In a military context, he regularly finds himself asked some version of the question: “If ISIS killed your child, would you pray for them?” His answer? “Yes, while I am on my way to kill them.”

I understand this answer. It’s my natural answer, too. When others wrong me, I want to strike back. I want revenge. There’s something deeply human in the idea that we can somehow restore a measure of order, balance, and justice to the world through violent retribution.

But for people like that army chaplain, and for any of us who claim Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Teacher, this is not an answer that we can ultimately accept. Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. The meaning of Jesus’ words are clear, unambiguous. If we take the Bible seriously – and, more importantly, if we take Jesus seriously – we must embrace the way of love for enemies.

Jesus’ actions are even clearer. Through his saving death on the cross, he demonstrates for us the way that God handles the sin, darkness, and horrible injustice that has spread like a cancer in our world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, apart from God. Jesus died for us when we were his sworn enemies. Jesus’ death was no accident. We killed him.

Yet God in Jesus demonstrates a reaction that is so foreign to our broken human nature. Where we rush to seek bloody vengeance, Jesus allows his death to become a doorway to forgiveness, healing, and transformation for we who have been the murderers.

In Jesus, we discover that our own rush to judgment and violence is a reflection of the fallen order – the darkness that God would free us from. When we become friends of Jesus, when we choose to follow him, we are led inevitably into an encounter with the cross – and that cross disarms us forever.

Nevertheless, we are called to a certain kind of warfare. The life of a disciple is full of struggle, since we are called to go against the grain of the surrounding society. History has shown time and again that many who choose to follow the way of Jesus will be subject to trouble, persecution, even death. In the midst of this challenge, our war is one of selfless love that stands firm in the face of hatred, evil, and darkness – exposing it to the light for all to see.

Violence, oppression, and all sorts of evil hide behind a veneer of respectability and authority. The role of the prophetic church is to issue an invitation to see what’s really happening behind the curtain. As disciples of Jesus, we are given authority to unveil Empire, challenging all the powers and principalities that twist our society and harm our communities.

And when they come for us, when they slander and attack us, we have only one defense: prayer for enemies, and the courage to continue our powerful witness in the face of social pressure, threats, and violence.

Is that the kind of church you belong to? Do you want to? I’d like to invite you to join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering (October 7-10). We’ll be exploring how we can actively, imaginatively, and faithfully follow Jesus in a chaotic and broken world. Registration is open now. I hope you’ll consider attending. Together, we can live more deeply into the way of courage, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus.

Related Posts:

There is a Spirit which I Feel: The Cloud of Witnesses

How We Can Wage Peace Amidst the Chaos

  • Rene Lape

    As usual, I think you articulate perfectly what the inner challenges we have dealing with mindless violence that impacts us personally. But this is the testimony I have the greatest difficulty with. While I strongly believe that Jesus would not seek to ignite our spirit of revenge, I do not think he is saying that corporately, as a community, we should ever simply stop at that inward forgiveness. Do you really think Jesus would say that if someone killed a child or anyone in his presence that nothing should be done? I don’t think so. That is why we have police and armies, to seek a degree of accountability and justice corporately – as a social order we are part of. If someone in my community, be it my son or daughter or just someone I don’t know – is killed, the person who did it should be apprehended, tried and punished. If ISIS members, who I am sure are all brothers and sisters of ours who have given their lives to horrible acts of violence for a cause they believe is meaningful however foolishly. But we need armies to deal with them. Now the hard question for Quakers and others who adhere to the absolutist approach to the peace testimony comes – if I truly believe in not using deadly force against people who are killing others, either in our neighborhoods or in our world, and I refuse to serve or to support those who serve in the police departments or armies we use to deal with such things, am I not just watching others put themselves at risk to achieve the order and justice I should be part of getting. It’s the spirit with which we try to do these things that is important. The woman whose loved one was killed by Dylann Roof stood in front of him and said she forgave him, but that doesn’t mean he should not be taken by police, tried and “punished” – not be killing him necessarily but by removing him from the streets. Should he be “treated” and “reformed” if possible instead of killed? Should we try to apprehend ISIS members or simply do the war-thing? I think on the international scene for things like ISIS or Hitler, we must turn to armies.

    • Thanks for this substantive reply, Rene.

      I think that your argument has merit and sound logic behind it. Unfortunately, I believe that it is the logic of the fallen world, and not the simple (“absolutist”) teaching of Jesus.

      That there is a civil authority who wields the sword, we know. That God has given them authority to do so, Paul asserts in his letter to the Romans. But the whole of the New Testament is clear that for us, the followers of Jesus, our only weapon is steadfast love, endurance, and prophetic witness in the face of violent and blasphemous powers that warp our human existence.

      In the cross of Jesus, we find an invitation to a way of life that explodes our ordinary assumptions about “justice”, allowing God to be sovereign and trusting in him to judge the world.

      Our calling is to love – fiercely and unapologetically – in the way of Jesus.