The atrocities of ISIS seemingly are progressive as these Muslim extremists seek to create fear and chaos in the Middle East, and possibly beyond. The brutal beheadings of twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians was a heinous act that defies explanation. That much is clear.
The world watches as their evil increases.
What is not clear however is what ISIS, and others like them (Al Quida, Boko Haram, etc) represent, beyond a present evil. Much debate has been offered to attempt to answer this question.
What is also not clear is what the Christian response to these atrocities should be. Just read some of the many commentaries and comments being offered to know that there is a diverse amount of opinion among Christians.
Christians actually have different opinions about how to best respond to this evil, and anti-Christ spirit, of the day. What does that make us if we as Christians cannot agree on such important matters of a proper response to ISIS? I suggest that it makes us all too human.
If Christians cannot agree on what is the proper response to ISIS, and there is no historical evidence that we agree on much, even given the essentials of our faith, why should we then think that ISIS represents the essentials of a faith few Christians understand?
What I mean is why would we, as Christians, with varied understanding of our own faith, impose on one billion, six hundred million Muslims the idea that, as reported by a well read “Atlantic” article, ISIS is “very Islamic”1? Especially when the vast majority of those who practice Islam think not.
Is it not at least fairly audacious to suggest that Muslims, sincere in their faith who think ISIS is an aberration, are wrong about their religion and we are right about our characterizations? Perhaps they know something we don’t know, even about ourselves? More than audacious it is arrogant.
The question we, as Christ-followers, should firstly ask is what does my response to ISIS tell me about what’s in my own heart? Is my response Christ-like and what should that look like in my own life? In fact, the Apostle Paul suggests it is a requirement to examine our faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Now seems like a good opportunity.
These are times to search our own hearts and determine if what we understand about our own faith is informing our thinking or if we have allowed other ideas to be more persuasive.
Certainly, we should call evil what it is. Jesus did.
In fact, Jesus called us all evil (Matthew 7:11), reserved his harshest criticism for those who claimed to be better because of their religion (Matthew 12:34), and knew that all human tendency was toward evil (Matthew 15:19).
But where do we go from there? Is it possible to form a Christ-like response to evil? What would that look like? Certainly, it would be different than the very human tendency toward fear, anger and hate, would it not?
Perhaps the most Christ-like response to the evil of ISIS comes from Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom:
“Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some….but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don't forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.” 2
Yes, it might seem unbelievable to some, perhaps many, to forgive the ISIS killers but that is exactly what Jesus would do, in fact did do. As we know, suffering the worst form of torture and execution ever devised by the evil of mankind, Jesus cried out on a cross, “Father, forgive them…”
It is not an easy journey to get there but a worthwhile one as we come to grips with the power of forgiveness to transform the world, reconcile relationships, and overcome evil. Jesus gave us the strategy for overcoming evil when he taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13), intercede on the behalf of our persecutors and commanded us love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
But do we believe it? Do we live like it?