Lessons from Paris

Terrorism and the targeting of civilians is a horror, and every religion has been guilty of this unthinkable action. We must stop using faith as a weapon and overcome the love of power with the power of love. Cheap grace, however, is little solace to grieving families. There must be justice or God’s grace is diminished along with what we call civilization. How do we live in a world where tolerance is expected and repaid with bloodshed?

Rather than face our own atrocities and our own complicity in hurting others, we move along with a simple hope that it, whatever “it” is, doesn’t happen here. We become N.I.M.B.Y’s (Not In My Back Yard) and welcome isolation from those that are different from us. Out of fear we shun the sojourner and nomads among us. What part of John 3:16 is false? Either God did or didn’t love the world. I’m all for high standards towards others, but with ethics. The words of Micah the prophet echo today: “God has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

Acting justly requires repentance and justice for the offender and the victim. Loving mercy demands that the cycle of violence that seeks an eye for an eye be stopped. Walking humbly with God and with everyone else is a call to self-restraint. My natural tendency is to try to get along with everyone, but pray with one eye open because I’ve been burned by evil before. This, for me, is the crux of the problem in the aftermath of any senseless atrocity: In what ways do I act like Jesus the table-turner who uses a braided whip, or like Jesus who says “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Which way exhibits a more “radicalized” Christian? Is it more Christian to grab a gun and get revenge or to embrace and seek peace. I daresay that if the world thinks a radicalized Muslim is hell-bent on killing non-Muslims, then the world better think the opposite of us. We are heaven-bent on loving in the ways of Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).” I want to be a radicalized Christian.

I understand that there must be the rule of law and civilization, but personal retaliation is ruled out in the Christian ethic. Romans 12:17-21 and 13:1-2ff makes the difference clear between my personal position and the action of God-blessed governing authorities. The first passage says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This passage is about our personal response to evil and our attempt, “as far as it is possible,” to remain peaceful. The second passage, immediately following says: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” This passage, a few lines later, says about government: “For it is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for nothing.”

So the twist for me as one who wholeheartedly thinks that radical Islamists need to be punished is to let the rule of law take its just course, and not harbor hatred in my heart that would incite personal revenge. Sooner or later there must be a lesson learned, but it won’t occur if those who uphold Jesus’ ethics stoop to a hateful retaliation. How do we hate the sin and not the sinner? It is so much easier said than done. We defeated fascist Germany and militaristic Japan and then we rebuilt enemies into friends. Perhaps a similar route in the face of Paris is a use of the power of love that disciplines an incorrigible child. To do less is to condone evil. To do more is to become evil.

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