Fair warning: This is a Jesus-related post.
The whole ISIS situation has been weighing on me recently. More heavily than I expected it would. A lot of it has to do with my belief that so much of the world’s problems could be solved (or, at the very least, lessened) if everyone took a little time out of their day to understand someone else’s life, culture, mores, etc.
But more than that, I’ve been really disappointed with the reaction I’ve seen from Christians/conservatives in the media toward those who are vastly different from them. I don’t believe that these viewpoints are mainstream, but they are the loudest and so they get the most attention. So I’m here today to offer my personal perspective. Take it or leave it.
First, I should probably set out some of what I believe to be true regarding Scripture.
1. I believe that it is the inspired word of God.
2. I believe that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
3. I believe that Jesus is that fulfillment and I therefore look to His behaviors and teachings to guide my faith.
4. I believe that the best way to view the Old Testament is through the eyes of Jesus.
Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, here’s what I want to get at: Violent militant action regarding ISIS.
I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. Let me be clear: I think there’s a time and a place for a massive show of force, a big (and ultimately and sadly, a violent) reaction. But what I also think is that peaceful resolutions can be made. Here’s why.
Remember all those times in the Old Testament when the nation of Israel was overtaken by other countries? There’s one very specific time where the response was not with violence or force. It’s talked about in the book of Daniel. In the first chapter, we’re introduced to Daniel and his three buddies, the guys most of us would come to know as Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego (you know…the fiery furnace trio). They’re all young and have had everything ripped from them including, quite literally, their manhood. They have every reason to be pissed and want to take forceful action. Then they find out they’re about to be forced into the service of the king who’s caused all of this sh*t to happen to them, their families, their country. But they instead remain calm and level-headed…something that, frankly, is hard for most of us to accomplish under duress and these are teenage boys. So first and foremost, the takeaway here is: Take A Beat. Gather your thoughts and think through what the most appropriate action is. (Daniel 1:8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.)
But what’s really impressive here is that Daniel was able to come up with a resolution that was appropriate for both sides and neither side had to compromise their position in order to win. I’m sure any of us could come up with countless times someone has come to us with a complaint, but no solution. That’s useless. And it’s a waste of time (which, for someone like me, is the most irritating part of hearing a complaint). (Daniel 1:11-14 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” 14 So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.)
Daniel didn’t complain, he didn’t resort to violence or insults, and he wasn’t condescending or rude. All he was trying to do was cooperate and compromise without compromising his values. What’s important here that compromise isn’t a bad thing. At least, not always. What Daniel offered was a “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions”; he wasn’t “exposing or making [his values or beliefs] vulnerable to danger, suspicion, scandal.” [As a brief aside, the various and seemingly contradictory meanings of the many words in the English language is part of why I love it so much.]
Okay, so here’s where things are going to get tricky.
The Old Testament God is a God of war, a God of wrath, a God who doesn’t take anyone’s B.S. There’s little room for error (actually, there’s no room for error). But the Old Testament has long-since been fulfilled through the life (and subsequent death and resurrection) of Christ. So while that doesn’t negate the Old Testament, it does change how I view it. I don’t believe that the God of the Old Testament ever wanted to resort to all the war and violence that Israel was either put through or put other nations through. I also don’t believe it was without justification. It’s pretty clear through the course of the Old Testament that God gives ample warning to both the Israelites and the nations He’s about the have them topple. No one ever just arbitrarily went into another country without a) provocation and/or b) warning.
But then Christ shows up on the scene and completely changes the modus operandi of not only Israel, but the world, at large. Shockingly, He suggests that we love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.), turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39 … if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.), and, in general, love everyone…no matter what (John 13:34-35 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another).
Christ came and flipped everything on it’s head. Everything we knew to be true just…isn’t anymore. Our first response shouldn’t be fear or hatred. It doesn’t need to be.
So, yes, it’s frustrating for me to hear prominent people in the media claim to be followers of Christ while at the same time spewing such hatred toward another human.
The fact of the matter is two-fold: 1) ISIS is committing deplorable acts against humanity; and 2) members of ISIS are also created in the image of God. They are as entitled to membership in the Kingdom of Heaven as anyone else. But their decision to choose that or not choose that does not, in any way, diminish their value in the eyes of God.
There’s a big piece of me that believes the world, at large, is moving more toward a state of peaceful resolutions. Maybe that’s naive of me to think, but when I hear young people today speak about what the world looks like to them and what it can look like, I’m both impressed and inspired. I think the youngest portion of my generation and the generation that will follow will largely take a stance like that of Daniel and the three amigos. Do I think it will work all the time? No. Do I think military action will need to be taken against such atrocities as those we’re seeing today? Yes.
I believe we live in a broken world, but not one that is beyond repair or redemption.
I believe peaceful resolutions are possible.
I believe that trying to understand before flying off the handle is the best approach.
I don’t believe “kill ’em or convert ’em” is a methodology Christ preaches or would condone.
But most importantly, I believe that God is a God of grace and redemption and that absolutely none of us are so beyond His reach that we should lose hope.
**This post was inspired, in part, by a recent sermon by Steve Kooy of Bridgeway Community Church in California, MD. The entire series on the book of Daniel can be found here, but the referenced sermon is here.