The death of our enemies
The recent death of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has reminded me of my experience on September 11, 2001. I wrote about it in the September 25, 2001 issue of the Indiana Baptist in an editorial entitled, "Demanding Justice?":
I wanted justice.
After denial gave way to belief. When the shock began to subside. When I finally accepted the fact terrorists had hijacked four American passenger planes and crashed them into various targets along the eastern seaboard I wanted justice.
I was in Alpharetta, Georgia at the North American Mission Board when I heard the news on September 11, 2001. I was scheduled to fly home later that day but ended up waiting at a Hertz rental car counter for almost five hours before I was able to get a car for my 9-hour drive to Indianapolis. I had a lot of time to consider the events of the day and ample opportunity to see first-hand a nation thrown into near chaos. The more I thought and the more I saw, the more I wanted justice.
Images came at me so fast that day I barely had time to process what was happening. There was the prayer time at the North American Mission Board chapel where I saw brothers and sisters coming before God able only to trust in His sovereignty over something we could not understand.
There was the time I spent with the man who drove me to the airport. A native of South Africa with a great deal of experience with this sort of thing, he told me he was indeed a Christian (seminary trained) but wanted me to understand the only way to deal with terrorists is to “hunt them down and exterminate them.”
There was news of 1,500 passengers stranded in Atlanta’s airport and of the restaurant owners who fed them for free.
I saw a man come into the Hertz office and get incredibly upset because the lady behind the desk was going to have to run a few things through the computer in order to get him on his way. The delay, she said, would be about 10 minutes. He almost blew his top, as if there were not thousands of people having a much worse day.
I waited in gas lines in Murphreesboro, Tennessee.
Mostly I had time to think, and it occurred to me, every now and then God gives us a glimpse at just how despicable sin really is. The terrorists who attacked America showed the world what full-strength sin looks like. It is easy for us to look at the behavior of those particular sinners and see how God would be justified in pouring out His wrath on them. I was just about to pray for that very thing when I saw a sign.
On the marquee of a church sign was the phrase, “May God give us justice.”
The notion sent chills down my spine. Then something else occurred to me. I am just as deserving of God’s justice as are these terrorists.
Oh, I’ve never murdered innocent people by the thousands the way they did, but my heart was just as dark and my nature just as depraved as theirs. God does not differentiate between sins. On my own I stand just as guilty before a Holy God as they do. There is just one difference. Rather than subject me to the justice I so richly deserve God, in His love and mercy, chose to give me grace instead. Had God removed His hand of grace from me and turned me over to my own sinful nature I would have been capable of crimes just as despicable. But he showed me grace.
In a temporal sense it is appropriate to desire justice. In Romans 13 Paul points out that this is the purpose for which governments have been established. And it is my sincere hope the perpetrators of this act are brought to justice in this sense. But I will not pray for God to extend to them His eternal justice.
After the attacks Senator John McCain stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and said to the terrorists, “We are coming. God may show you mercy. We will not.”
As believers our prayer should be “May God show you mercy.” We should not merely recognize it as a possibility but genuinely desire it.
I had wanted justice. But if everyone deserving of justice got it that would include me. I do not want justice. I want mercy. I want grace. And because of the terrible price Jesus paid to secure that grace I want as many people as possible to receive it. How could I want anything else?
God has used this most recent occasion to show me, once again, the wonder of His grace and just how much I don’t deserve it. He has also used it to convict me of a failure of mine.
It’s very easy to view a person like al-Zarqawi as something altogether different from one’s self. He has committed acts of terrorism. He has brutally beheaded innocent people. And, for the longest time, I wanted him captured or killed just as much as anyone. But the jubilation I’ve seen with the news of his death has disturbed me. I’m pleased he is no longer able to kill and terrorize, but his death is not something to be celebrated.
Scripture commands us to pray for our enemies. Jesus, during the Sermon on the Mount said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5:44,45)
We need to be praying for our enemies.