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This is a tricky, touchy subject. I’ve seen plenty of friends and colleagues attempt to tackle this via Facebook today. I’ve been surprised that for some this has been a time of gloating and cheering.
Every time I begin to compose words to address the situation, I feel that words fall short here.
Sure, there is relief. A man who killed thousands of people out of hate and greed is gone from this world and will not harm anyone again. Yet there will be others in his name, and there will be new people who out of hate will commit mass murder. This is not the first mass murderer our world has seen, nor will it be the last.
I pray that somehow his death brings some relief to those who lost loved ones on 9/11, in the civil war in Afghanistan of the late 1990’s, and in the wars on terror that have followed. However, I cannot believe that this lessens the pain for those who grieve. There is nothing that can take away that pain.
I cannot believe that a Christian response involves gloating and cheering. When I look at the words of Jesus, I find “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44), “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27), and “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” (Luke 6:35).
We are called to love and to pray.
Forgiveness is another touchy subject. Honestly, I don’t know how it is possible for us to forgive, but we know that with God all things are possible. We know we were taught by Jesus to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” or another translation: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” or yet even another translation: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Still, when it comes to this question of forgiveness, I don’t know what the answer is.
What I know is this: Jesus called us to love and to pray for our enemies. I think we have to attempt that first before we can address the question of forgiveness, which for some of us, we may never be able to address that.
And I know this will probably not come out right, I haven’t found the words to clearly express what I’m thinking, but in some way, we, as in, all of humanity, have failed.
We have failed in that we have forgotten to pray for our enemies and instead pray for our own relief from suffering.
We have failed in that we continue to resort to violence to end our conflicts, even if it seems there is no other way to end the fighting. I personally don’t see that there was any other way to begin to end the terror of Osama bin Laden but by his death. But did we pray for his transformation of heart, or did we just pray that he would be caught? Did we pray that he might repent and turn back to God, or did we pray that he would suffer the pain that he had caused upon so many? We have failed as human beings to once again have to resort to violence to end violence.
Again, I’m not sure my words really convey what I am thinking and feeling, but when I look at Jesus, the innocent man, with the entire crowds gloating and cheering and shouting “Crucify Him!” and his crying out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;” when I look at Jesus and see no revenge, no disciples going after Pilate after Jesus’ death but instead proclaiming his resurrection and preaching to the crowds that crucified him the Gospel message and inviting all to be baptized into new life (Acts 2), I think we have failed. In no way am I comparing Osama to Jesus–please do not assume that! But Jesus was truly innocent and asked God to forgive the crowds, and his own disciples went out and proclaimed the Good News of the Resurrection, the hope of new life, and we know through the book of Acts that at least one persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, who approved of the stoning of Stephen and the persecution of Christians, repented. We know his story. Is there ever the possibility of another turning? Would we accept and believe that transformation?
Nonetheless, this human failing is just that–part of our humanity. I don’t think we can ever change the circumstances if the person themselves will not see the need for transformation. We cannot change them; we can only change ourselves. As Paul said, after his conversion and transformation, “If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live in peace with all” (Romans 12:18).
Again, I am reminded that Jesus calls us to love and pray.
So let us pray:
You created all of us in Your image. The Bible tells us that “in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:27). Yet we as human beings have the capacity to distort and misuse that image. We can create destruction. We can create evil. We can cause violence and terror.
God, Your ways are mysterious to us. We know that You have commanded us to love You with all our being and to love each other. You have called us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Lord, this may be the hardest thing for us to do. Created in Your image, we desire to love one another, to care for one another, to protect one another, and when we find a human being is destroying and distorting Your image, we cannot recognize their humanity. Protect us, O God, from hate, from returning evil for evil.
In this time, we continue to pray for those who lost loved ones on 9/11. We continue to pray for soldiers and civilians who will bear the impact of retaliation and continued violence. We continue to pray for terrorists and all who entice violence, because we are called to pray in the name of love for the transformation of the heart rather than act out in vengeance.
We pray that You will guide us into the pathways of peace. We know that while in this time one person will no longer be able to harm others, there will be other humans who will rise up, as in the past, and commit such atrocities that we cannot imagine. Lord, as far as it depends upon us, let us live in peace with all. Let us do our part to build Your kingdom of peace here on earth.
Release Date: October 8th, 2019