Death to the enemy?

4 May

Osama Bin Laden is dead, killed by American special forces. “The world is a safer place” and “We are better off without him” are oft repeated phrases, along with the very much clichéd “U-S-A” chants by members of the American public. But where does God lie in all this? Sadly He is getting a lot of misrepresentation by a lot of people who have been interviewed. The saddest I have seen was an American man, who had lost his wife in the 9/11 attacks, saying that his wife was in Heaven looking down with satisfaction as justice was done and Bin Laden was sent to Hell.

Nowhere have I seen people remembering 2 key parts of Christian theology:
– Matthew 5:39 & 44
– Deuteronomy 32:35 (repeated in Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30)

In Matthew’s gospel, we see it as part of what has been called the most important sermon ever spoken. Jesus sets out how we are to live, from the attitudes we should seek to have to behaviours on a wide range of issues, Jesus pretty much covers the lot. And as part of that, we see 2 passages that the general populace of America seem to have forgotten whilst declaring that God is on their side. The first, verse 39, Jesus tells the people (and therefore us also) that we should turn the other cheek. And then just 5 verses later, in verse 44, he tells us that we should “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.
Ok, so the message seems fairly clear here that we are to take what we are given when attacked and that we are to pray for our attackers out of love for them. Sadly, with a world as messed up as ours is, things are never that simple. We, as flawed human beings, cannot accept the idea of not retaliating. This is particularly true in young people today, not least the young people I work with in East London. Here the attitude is that if someone hits you, you hit them back and then some! I was recently chatting with 1 young person who told me that if he was hit he would hit back “10 times harder”. I asked him what that would mean would come back to him and we eventually went through to about 10,000 times the power before I asked him “Do you see where this is going?” I think he got my point, but sadly I doubt it will change his attitude the next time he is insulted or attacked because this attitude is so deeply ingrained into the psyche of people.

And the sad thing is that I am pretty sure that the reason why Jesus said to pray for your enemies was because prayer can make a difference. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing it! And the fact that we human beings so often resort to our own strength, whether that’s our fists, knives, guns or bombs, and we only go and make the situation a whole lot worse. You just have to look at books written by former gang members (my favourite is still Run, Baby, Run by Nicky Cruz) and how revenge can escalate into something horrific.
Look at what happened as a result of 9/11:
Afghanistan invaded and lots of people die (and are still dying!) during the conflict.
Iraq invaded and lots of people die in the conflict.
It is believed that over 30 times that many people died from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, even if you don’t include the deaths of Coalition troops. How’s that for an escalation! And all because we do not follow Jesus’ teachings and pray for our enemies, rather than attacking them back. And interestingly, Jesus finishes off the Sermon on the Mount by saying “…everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” (Matthew 5:26) I’m sure you remember what happened to him!

And so what are we to do if we don’t have our revenge? Well, this is where the twice repeated passage from Deuteronomy is key. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” is part of a song by Moses, speaking of what God will do to those who do not follow Him. It very clearly tells us that God will deal with them “In due time”. That’s not necessarily hen we would like them to be dealt with, but it is when God will deal with them because he has said He will. And if there’s one thing we know about God, it’s that His timing is perfect. Now whether they are dealt with during their lifetime or whether it’s at the day of judgement, it is not for us to decide. To do so is to play at being God, and Exodus 20:3-4 tells us that that is not an option as far as God is concerned.

The hard thing for us to grasp, something that I regularly struggle with understanding, is that in order to live as God calls us to we must not only take our attacks without retaliating but we must be prepared to continue to do so. And this is especially hard for those of us in the Western World, because we generally do not have to live with persecution on the same scale as Christians in Muslim countries or places like China have to deal with on a daily basis. And yet I am pretty sure that those who do live with it are far closer to living out this teaching than we are ever likely to be, because for them it is a living reality.

It’s quite a scary thing to consider, that rather than do anything in our own strength we must imply lay it at the foot of the Cross and pray that God’s will be done. It means that we are making ourselves vulnerable, as nothing, and resting on our faith in Christ Jesus and His power to do what is right. It is something that I am not sure we will ever truly be ready to do.

But what if we did…?

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