February 17, 2015 by Isaac Hovet
The savage images of executions and baiting hatred of ISIS is beyond comprehension. To think that there are people right now who have to cower in fear and despair is wrecking me.
In part I am being so devastated because I live in America and so have a slanted view of what people really experience. While we are not immune to terrorism, we live comfortably between two oceans, ruling our continent (no offense to French speakers to the north and Spanish speakers to the south) with no recent war. Our protected and preserved freedoms create within me an expectation of ease, of tolerance for my beliefs and protection for me even if I hold oppositional or minority thoughts.
These freedoms and protections have shielded me from the reality of most of history. And this morning, I am realizing again how precious and sacred and uncommon it is for men and woman to be able to think freely, to express freely and to live without fear of retribution for differing beliefs.
The cynic may be thinking right now, “but, Isaac, don’t you see our freedoms being taken away? Aren’t you afraid that the Christian voice is being silenced?”
No, I am not afraid, because the amount of ‘persecution’ in our country doesn’t even begin to register when compared to what people currently and throughout history have endured.
Instead, I feel a growing respect for my Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are being terrorized because of their faith. Jesus’ instruction to love their enemies has far deeper implications and requires them to experience the power of love far beyond what I (most likely) will.
On a very small scale, I experience the power of redeeming and forgiving love when I choose to pray for people who’ve offended me, been unkind or even damaging to me. I am familiar with getting close to the massive trove of God’s grace and love. I’ve had moments of getting a small glimpse of the enduring and always present vats of his grace and love available for me. And when I taste his delicious ways of love, I am refreshed and empowered to love those who may even hate me.
From my safe perch in a legitimate (and formally recognized) All American town, it may sound cavalier for me to even express this, but I believe that the persecuted Christians around the world, while experiencing real terror, real pain and loads of uncertainty, are also experiencing the abiding presence of the Lord in a way that I will not…and for that, I honor and even envy them.
While I value my freedoms, I can’t help but marvel thinking of the Holy Spirit bringing joy in the midst of such trial. And to think of Christians laying aside their punitive, judgmental ways to show Christ’s sacrificial love, I am inspired and humbled.
ISIS may think they are bringing about redemption through violence and the ushering in of the Apocalypse, but God’s love will prevail. Christians are marked by this very different power: the power of the Kingdom of Heaven. The power of grace and forgiveness. In the scope of eternity, no free passes are given, but in the present, we can trust God to be the perfect judge and rest in the grace he will give all who are unjustly accused, threatened, beaten or killed.
Jesus, to a people who were already oppressed, persecuted and beleaguered, asks a lot when he instructs them:
“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. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
This morning, I refuse to see the men of ISIS as a horde of monsters, but still believe that they are created in the image of God. While their ways of hate are an incredible offense to their creator, they are still redeemable. They need conversion to the way of Jesus’ truth, his way of love and peace, but they will not be reduced by me to a faceless enemy. Today they are men in need of a real savior. And perhaps from the throngs of hate will emerge an apostle of light in the mold of Paul who hated so violently but then found the call of a loving savior to be his destiny.
Beyond what I can see or what my government can provide…somewhere in the ‘deeper magic’ of the way of love, beauty arises from the ashes of our sacrificed demands for punitive justice and the carcass of endless and futile game of reciprocal hate.