The world knows everything about everything.
Knowledge permeates every aspect of our culture and if you want to learn how to do anything; from playing guitar to navigating a submarine–just watch youtube. In spite of all of the minutiae, there is still one thing which prevails over the Western imagination: evil. We don’t understand it. We don’t comprehend it. It is one of the last fields of study of which man can not cease to be surprised about.
ISIS, the world’s first multi-national terrorist organization, is more powerful than any terror association in the history of the west. Scores of Jews and Christians, even Muslims, have been driven from their homes in Northern Iraq and Syria, all because they refused to bow the knee to the self established Caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It is as if the world is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in our post-9/11 world. Evil surfaced by killing thousands of Americans in New York, and we went to war to kill the terrorists. In a unity unlike we had seen in years (between Republicans and Democrats), America went to kill the bad guys. And we succeeded in part. Osama Bin Laden is dead, and many terrorists outed by intelligence are now eliminated. But we weren’t prepared for this, with the looming threat of economic collapse and a war we can no longer afford. We are at a stand still with the only solution the world’s greatest minds are giving us being the same thing: “Kill them. All of them.”
Although this seems like the logical choice, the west looks on with skepticism, as if to say, “Is this going to work? Our own kids are fleeing to Iraq to join.” What is this growing feeling our nation, our people and our institutions seem to have?
And yet, here comes Jesus. Over and over again, declaring to us:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do.”-Luke 12:4
Hate is not opposite of love, fear is the opposing force of love. Fear consumes us, makes us afraid to have awkward conversations that matter and acts as a false discernment for those of us who desire all of the safety and none of the adventure. Fear is the enemy of peace and the barrier to reconciliation.
Do not be afraid! (Matthew 8:26, 14:27, 17:7, 28:10; Mark 4:40, 5:36, 6:50; Luke 8:50, 12:4; John 6:20)
Love your enemies! (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 6:35)
Pray for those who persecute you! (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28)
A wall has been erected in between two people groups. We don’t understand ISIS, and we seek not to understand but to attack, there is no prayer because there is no imagination seeking to end the terror and violence. And let’s be honest: violence is not imaginative. In fact, the very institutions (walls) we construct to protect and promote our values, usually are the very things which oppress and destroy our values. A city may create a wall to keep the citizens safe and the bad guys out, but eventually the bad guys find a way to put fire inside the walls. We suffocate within the walls of denial and freedom. There is an answer! But how shall we tear the walls of division down down? The worlds religions have nowhere to go except to one another. I believe the Apostle Paul had the answer:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he (Jesus) came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”-Ephesians 2:13-17
East & West
We do not understand the east and the east does not understand us. In America, we are taught from a very young age that secularism has freed us from the terrors of ascribing every major catastrophe to the gods and we are free! And by “freedom” we usually mean, “alone.” We offer our western democracy, with its influences steeped in social Darwinism and Epicureanism, to the middle east and they do not understand the value in individualism if it sacrifices what they hold most dear: family, community and faith. The Western tradition is something I hold dear, with its advocacy of civil liberty and civil governance, but I also value the Eastern tradition with its emphasis on communal responsibility and identity. Yet our brand of democracy is looked down upon, and a vicious reaction across the greater arab world has ensued. The response must change. Violence can not continually be the answer. Love, but not cheap love, is the answer. Love that is willing to have conversations with our enemies, to understand and to seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Seeking reconciliation is the only solution that is long term.
Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s leading historians on religion, said this in a recent interview for Salon:
“We’re in danger of making a scapegoat of thing, and not looking at our own part in this. When we look at these states and say, ‘Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they see that secularism is the better way? Why are they so in thrall to this benighted religion of theirs? What savages they are,’ and so on, we’ve forgotten to see our implication in their histories.”
In this post I have embedded a short 45-minute documentary from the folks at Vice News. It features interviews with leadership from ISIS complete with a day-in-the-life feel. Whenever I watched it for the first time, it contained the usual:
-Shouts of the downfall of western society
-Kids repeating extremist propaganda
What I didn’t expect was the moment when one of the men was being interviewed. He kept going down the list of perceived injustices that had compelled him to take up arms and fight violently for his vision of a unified people longing for sharia law to cover the earth. Suddenly, the man speaks of the children that have been orphaned, and how they were going to orphan our children. Immediately, the man with the gun on camera begins to weep uncontrollably. It was in that moment the Lord tugged heavy on my heart and I began to shed tears as well. All of the atrocities done by men over centuries of history chronicled in violence and what do we see is the cause? A sense of abandonment. The orphan spirit lurking in the hearts of men and women who do not want to be a victim, and will do anything to not become one again. In the midst of this, God comes to us in Jesus, and on the cross declares the existential criss of a generation: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)” God declares to God that He fully understands the affliction of the soul. Do we think that God understands the affliction of those in Iraq?
The only hope they have is brave men and women who are willing to say, “We believe in a God who became man, so that the sons of men could becomes the sons and daughters of God. No longer orphans, but adopted into the family of God. How does this family spread its roots? Through love and the proclamation of the lordship of our merciful and generous King: Jesus. Where are your sick? Where are your wounded? Take us to them, for we will heal them (Matthew 10) and comfort all those in affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4); teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).”
Problem & Solutions
Lastly, much of the confusion has to do with misplaced and mislabeled problems. We see jihad as a major problem, and it is a problem! But what if those who enact extremism all over the world see “jihad” as a solution to a deeper problem, a problem that we in the west have yet to look at? If we were to understand their position as a solution to a problem, then perhaps we would tackle the actual problem that goes deeper within the hearts and minds of men. What if we were to send teams to potentially hostile regions? Teams who would stand there and call people to purpose and destiny through the Kingdom of God. Likewise, sin is seen as a problem for many christians, but sin is not the problem. Sin is the solution that we create to the actual problem. A desperate attempt to make better a hopeless situation full of two things: death and futility. The real solution, the real hope, is the Kingdom of God.
Take a moment and pray for those in persecution, and ask God how we should partner with Him to see awakening come to the nations.
Grace and peace to you,
Here is an interview with the vicar of Baghdad, andrew White, who refuses to leave his people alone in Iraq. Be inspired by his preaching of peace.
The link to Karen Armstrong’s powerful interview: http://www.salon.com/2014/11/23/karen_armstrong_sam_harris_anti_islam_talk_fills_me_with_despair/