It has probably made you angry if you have seen, read, or heard about any of the recent beheadings of Christians in the Middle East. When we see some form of injustice, unfairness, or mistreatment, most of us want justice. We want justice to be served to the perpetrator(s). If someone harms a child, traffics and enslaves people, or beheads people who chose not to convert to a religion, we want justice to be served swiftly.
We should want justice. The need for justice is buried deep in our psyche. It is part of being created in the image of God. A world without justice would mean that the guilty go free. If you have ever been wronged or harmed by someone you personally understand the desire for the guilty to be punished for their crime.
So when we see a group like ISIS behead Christians again in the Middle East, it is normal and natural for us to want our world leaders to act. It is normal for us to want those men hiding behind masks to stop being cowards and to pay for their crimes. This is where Jesus’ commands to his followers may be difficult to understand.
Jesus taught, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Jesus not only taught this truth, he experienced it. He was executed unjustly at the hands of the Roman soldiers and Jewish religious leaders. He died at the hands of an unmerciful system and unjust group of people. And he is the only person to do so who could say he was 100% innocent.
Even his followers didn’t want to go down without a fight. The night before Jesus was executed, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of one the men who came to arrest Jesus. But Jesus told Peter, “Put away your sword,”… “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52 NLT) Unlike ISIS and other Islamist groups, Jesus was reminding his that we should not seek to advance or impose God’s will on others through violent means. Rather we should use weapons like prayer and love.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” (Romans 12:14 NLT) And he wrote, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:19-21 NLT)
So our part is to love them. Bless them. Pray for them. Show kindness to them. That is how we respond on a personal level. We can and should want justice but instead of taking revenge on people we need to trust God to execute it in his own time and his own way. We can then trust God to be the judge. After all God gets angry. And we should know that it is much worse to fall into the hands of a righteous and angry God than it is to fall into the hands of an angry human judge on earth.
If people need to be paid back, God is completely able to administer justice rightly. And we have the promise that God will make all things right one day. He will judge all people. So even when we don’t see the justice of God in the immediate moment we can trust that one day He will judge every single person who has ever lived with complete righteousness.
Sometime overcoming evil with good will involve nations and governments stopping evil through the use of superior force. Much like the world stopped Nazi Germany in World War II. The Apostle Paul said, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.” (Romans 13:4 NLT)
But to follow Jesus’s commands to pray, bless, and love our enemies on a personal level takes a great deal of faith. It goes against what our gut level instinct is. The teachings of Jesus are often like that. His teachings often turn the world’s way of doing things upside down.
The Apostle Peter who was also executed at the hands of his enemies also reminded us why we should respond with such patience. He said, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT)
God perspective on time is different from ours. It is not that God is slow in fulfilling his promise, but rather that he is patient. He is patient on all of us. He wants every single person to have the opportunity to turn to him in faith and receive eternal life. Even those who do evil.