The President recently hosted a summit entitled, “Countering Violent Extremism.” I wish to address what should be done about those who commit violence fueled by extremist ideologies. Of course, presently ISIS and other Islamic radicals are doing the most and worst forms of violence, driven by their interpretation of Islamic Scriptures. I believe the Judeo/Christian Scriptures provide the best ways to address those who commit such acts of violence.
If we are going to respond appropriately, we need to:
UNDERSTAND THE UNDERLYING CAUSE
The cause of violence & murder is not poverty. The vast majority of poor people do not become violent. The most fundamental cause is Satan. Misguided religious leaders were out to kill Jesus. He said in John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning….” 1 John 3:12 says, “not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd who came to give life abundantly. He contrasted Himself with the devil, to whom he likened to a “thief [who] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). Any form of religion that inspires people to commit murder, theft, and destruction is not of God, but of Satan. The apostle Paul warned in 1 Tim. 4:1, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” That prophecy has clearly been fulfilled!
Scripture clearly teaches that the hatred of Satan & his followers is especially directed toward Jews and Christians because of our connection to the true God. In Revelation 12:13 John says, “When the dragon [Satan] saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.” The description of the woman in v.1 clearly identifies her as Israel (cf. Gen. 37:9), through whom the Son of God came. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Speaking to Christians, the apostle John said, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). In a prophecy of the end times, Jesus said, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). False religion is often behind this hatred. Jesus said, “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2).
If the underlying cause of violent extremism is spiritual, then the solution is spiritual. Killing & imprisoning terrorists faster than they can multiply will help, but only Jesus Christ can turn souls from hatred and murder to loving, law-abiding Christians. Political leaders who drive away those who share the Gospel do so to their own peril!
HOLD POLITICAL AUTHORITIES ACCOUNTABLE FOR PUNISHING EVIL
Leaders of communities and nations have a responsibility to punish those who commit evil, especially the shedding of innocent blood. Deut. 19:11-13 says, “if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies…, then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there [city of refuge], and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you.” (See also Dt. 21:7-9). Rom. 13:3-4 says, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil…. if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” So if the world's political & military leaders do not confront the evil of the brutal shedding of innocent blood, not only will the perpetrators of evil answer to God, but so will those who do little or nothing about it and allow such evil to grow!
Those who are so depraved that they commit murder are like a cancer in society. If the cancer cells are not killed & removed, they will spread and bring death and destruction. Even so, civil authorities have a responsibility to remove murderers from society, either by death if they refuse to surrender, or at least by imprisonment. Sometimes executing war is necessary. Defeating those who commit genocide clearly qualifies as a just war. This of how many millions of lives would have been saved if the world had confronted Hitler’s regime much sooner. Instead, political leaders kept looking the other way for years while Hitler only grew stronger.
WHAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD DO
Individual Christians need to understand that God expects us to live by a higher standard of love, mercy and grace than secular authorities in our individual dealings with our enemies.
1) Avoid their violent attacks when possible. One primary way is to flee from those who perpetrate such acts of violence. God prescribed this regarding His Son Jesus. Mt. 2:13 says, “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’" Jesus said in Mt. 10:23, "When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” Likewise, Jesus predicted that the armies of Rome would come against Judea, so He said in Mt. 24:16, "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (See also Rev. 12:6).
2) Defend yourself & others when necessary. After warning of His own death, Jesus said in Luke 22:35-36, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?" So they said, "Nothing." Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” Then the disciples said in v.38, “Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough." Often just showing a weapon is enough to deter the shedding of innocent blood. Lethal weapons should only be used to prevent the shedding of such innocent blood.
3) Respond in a Christ-like manner. Jesus said in Luke 6:27, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you….” He also said in Mt. 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” We are to pray for the salvation of these people. Christians prayed for Saul of Tarsus. Jesus saved him and turned him from murdering Christians to promoting the Gospel of Jesus! In the spirit of Christ, that same apostle Paul made the following appeals in Romans 12:14-21, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Repay no one evil for evil…. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men…. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Notice that these commands apply to persecutors who hate & curse Christians. These commands do not negate self-defense against murder.
4) Commit vengeance to the Lord. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Even if government officials fail to carry out their duty, or even participate in murder, believers in the true God know that He will ultimately right every wrong. Revelation 6:9-10, "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’" Jesus said in Luke 18:7-8, "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” That later statement implies what is made clear elsewhere, that vengeance will come upon the return of Jesus (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
What is happening today points to the return of Jesus. In the midst of constant headlines of death & destruction, how wonderful it is to have hope that someday, perhaps soon, the Prince of Peace will come and establish a kingdom of justice and peace! Then there will be a new heaven and a new earth, in which “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). My hope is in God who promised, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Meanwhile, we would do well to remember what Jesus said in John 16:33, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
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