How should Christians respond to the incomprehensibly hateful actions of ISIS and other terrorist groups? In this extreme and genocidal brand of religio-political extremism, we find an ideology so reprehensible as to appear outside the bounds of reality. Yet, this threat to the well-being of peace-seeking humanity is indeed real. All Christians must ask themselves in what ways they are called to fight against the evil empire seeking not just to exist independently, but to rule and dominate the world scene now and forever more?
Jesus calls us to extremes of a different kind that might appear as illogical and as difficult to understand as the actions which now have such a grip on the attention of the world. Upon closer examination, to those who have faith in a righteous and loving God, Jesus’ words make all the sense in the world. In His revolutionary thesis on living in sync with the heart of God, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says the following about dealing with enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” Matthew 5:43-45.
Whatever action one takes must begin with love. “Love your enemies.” One may be inclined to hate someone or an entire group of people who is set on your destruction, but hate is not an option for one who desires to follow Jesus. Love must envelope the heart and drive the response. This is not an emotional, feel good, wishing and hoping reaction born of naiveté, but an intentional, powerful choice that declares that a focused, righteous foundation will guide my thoughts and actions, not hot-headed venting and ill-thought out revenge. Love your enemies.
Jesus next calls His followers to prayer. “…pray for those who persecute you.” Have you honestly prayed for the terrorist agencies that have been at war with the rest of humanity? I know my own struggles with prayer as someone who believes in prayer and engages in it aggressively. It is hard enough to pray for people I love and who stay on my mind. It takes intentionality, purpose, commitment and devotion – every day! Yet it can still be a struggle. How much more praying for someone who desires evil for me and is committed to carrying out evil in the most hideous ways imaginable? How does one pray for one’s enemy? I’d like to make a few suggestions:
1. Pray that the enemy will repent of their evil. Most of us forget, that the Apostle Paul was a religious zealot in the cloth of Al Queda or ISIS. He was committed to a brand of religion that called for the extermination of everyone who thought differently than himself, especially Christians! Then he had an encounter with Jesus! Directly. Mysteriously. Effectively. He became as committed to the way of love (he authored 1 Corinthians 13) as he had been to violence. Pray for the supernatural transformation of individuals who think their cemented in stone in their convictions, but whose hearts may yet have the hope of redemption.
2. Pray that their plans will fail. This means praying for the agencies, governments and leaders who must do the hard work of opposing them in real life real time. Pray for the exposure of their plans. Pray for the failure of their schemes. Pray that every evil deed will collapse in its execution. Pray that if they do not stop, those who have been commissioned to oppose them will stop them.
3. Pray for the courage to call out the evil they are perpetrating. Even the Nazis his their evil behind walls. The terror we are facing is brazen and bold, smirking and snarling with every manifestation of wickedness. This is the holocaust of our generation. It is evil. It is wrong. It must be stopped. To make no mention of it or to go about our daily lives only entertaining ourselves is tantamount to giving our stamp of approval to their heinous, evil crimes.
4. Pray for the courage to stand and resist should we find ourselves face to face with the perpetrators of this wickedness. Some first responders have already faced these enemies and continue to do so, face to face, hand to hand. Pray for them. The global nature of this threat opens significant possibilities that any of us could find ourselves in a situation that calls for us to stand for good in the face of undeniable evil. We must pray for strength, courage and dignity to reign in our hearts and wills if we should ever encounter such a tragic situation. Pray for your enemies!
Love and prayer. Formidable weapons that Jesus has issued to those who follow Him. Let us not love in word only, but in deed and let us not see prayer as a substitute for action, but rather as a propellant for proper direction, solid wisdom and energetic involvement in the challenge of our time. How do we respond to the terrorists who target us? Love your them and pray for them!