It is now Friday, and the evidence trail keeps pointing toward certain fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups…
To my Muslim friends:
I know many, if not most of you share the shock and horror at the actions of the few in the atrocity of September 11th… and I strongly suspect that many of you are as deeply embarrassed—as Muslims—over the actions of these Islamic extremists, as I am—as a Christian—over the atrocities done in history "in the name of Christ" in the Spanish Inquisition, or other insanities.
I know many of you to be peace-loving people, who struggle daily with the uneasy tension between the demands of your human heart for peace and trust , and the demands of your faith for victory and "no compromise"—at whatever cost to you and others. Where the "comfortable" Christian or "official" Christian is often weak and superficial in his commitment to his Lord Jesus, many of you are strong in your zeal for your Prophet and his Book.
We Christians are embarrassed over our acts of violence, as you are often embarrassed over Islamic violence such as this week's.
There is a very fundamental difference between these two, though, and it reveals the heart of the deep differences of our faith and our founders…
The modern Christian is embarrassed at the historical acts of violence, atrocity, and conquest committed by the church or with the endorsement of the church, because he knows that they violate the deepest teaching and example of Jesus. Our embarrassment is that we lived as 'mere men', that we stooped to the level of those without heart, that we failed to obey the Living Lord.
Our Jesus of the Bible said 'no' to such violence. When confronted with an angry, minority faction of first-century religious zealots in power, His response was one of meekness. When slandered with false accusations, "like a lamb drawn to slaughter, he opened not His mouth". When confronted with violent death, He submitted His fate to His Heavenly Father.
He conquered death—not by killing it—but by dying Himself. He overcame evil with good. His holy war against hate He fought with Love. His jihad against arrogance and abuse of power was fought by His living as a Suffering Servant among us. He triumphed over the decay among us by bringing His beauty from heaven. As they pierced His flesh on the Cross, He prayed for His tormentors: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do".
As His enemies swirled about Him at the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal and unjust trials, He could have asked His Father for military assistance—72,000 angels—but He did not (Injil, Gospel according to Matthew, 26.47-54):
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
Unlike many other religious founders and leaders of the past, He calls His betrayer "friend", and commands His followers to put down their swords… in submission to the will of God.
He did not shrink from His wounds—He embraced them. Even after He was raised from the dead by God the Father, He still carried—on His resurrected and indestructible new body—the marks of His deliberate weakness and the evidence of His innocent pain—in the nail prints in His hands.
In His unprecedented life of Love, He called His followers to take up their Cross (not someone else's), deny themselves (not others), and live as He did (giving His life for the welfare of others).
For the Christian, acts of aggression and intrusive violence are the gravest of sins—for they proceed from hearts that do not live with the "meekness and gentleness" of Christ, hearts that are selfish, arrogant, exploitative, and calloused toward others. Jesus gave His all—His very life—for others, but violence proceeds from 'taking':
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight." (Injeel, Epistle of James, chapter 4)
Some of you by now have perceived the radical difference between this example of Jesus, and the lives of some of His followers in history. We have misrepresented Him to you, by our own failures to live His way and love His way in history. But the true view of His heart can be seen in the stories in the New Testament—in His words of gentleness, in His deeds of mercy, and in His death for the sins of the world. His sacrifice-of-love death on the Cross before His Father—dying as a curse in our place so that we would not have to be accursed from God ourselves—was for all of us humans: me, you, Peter and Paul, Mohammed, Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and those yet unborn.
And, some of you by now have perceived the radical difference between the message of this Jesus and some aspects of your faith. While there is much noble truth in your faith, it also contains a disturbing undercurrent in opposition to this way of Love, this way of gentleness, this way of meekness and trust. It is this undercurrent which—in the hands of cruel men—become the tragedy of this week, and which—in the hearts of people like yourself—become a conscience troubled and uneasy.
This One taught us—in contrast to our own angry hearts, and in discontinuity with some of the Prophet's teachings:
But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Gospel according to Luke 6.27-28)
For Jesus, there was only complete consistency between His words and His actions—He taught love and never lashed out at His enemies or initiated a violent response. We as humans—of all faiths—fail to live as He did.
I encourage you to face this uneasiness in your heart, and take a fresh look at this Jesus—NOT at His followers in history—and see for yourselves why His offer of freedom and life was NOT couched in words of conquest and violence, but in words such as these:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Gospel according to Matthew 11.28-30)
[The author of this article, Glenn M. Miller, hereby grants permission to copy this article freely, provided that the material is not modified in any form (other than translation into another language); that the material is distributed without cost, and that the ThinkTank web site identification remains with the material.]